“You can’t eat the elephant all at once, you must eat it bit by bit.”
A phrase well used by one of Ireland’s top explorers who can count climbing Mount Everest, becoming the first Irish woman to reach the North Pole and over 50 marathons among her many achievements.
As the world of sport faces an uncertain time, Hannah Shields has urged athletes and sports teams to try and set short-term goals that are achievable within the current restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is something we always used to say as climbers. You can’t climb a whole mountain all at once, so you have to break it down bit by bit, into ‘edible’ goals,” she said.
“It’s something that really helped me to focus and to achieve my overall aims and something that to be honest, also helps me in my day to day life.
“I know this is a very difficult time for everyone and sport has been widely affected. It’s not easy when goals are moved, and training routines are disrupted etc.
“But setting out little things that you can achieve each day and ticking them off is really, really important, especially at a time like this.”
Shields helping Ireland women’s hockey team
The Kilrea woman has been working closely with the Ireland women’s hockey team in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics, which have now been postponed by a year, until the summer of 2021.
She has been focusing on areas like resilience and mindset, as they prepare for one of the biggest challenges and experiences of their sporting careers.
“It’s very difficult for the girls as they have been working towards and have been very focused on this one goal. But the reality is we cannot control it and it is totally out of their hands.
“So, the goal has been moved to down the line, but it remains the same. They have now set new, shorter-term goals, that are achievable in these present challenging times, to work on.
“[Coach] Sean [Dancer] no doubt will look on it as positively as he can. I am sure he will regard it as time that he otherwise wouldn’t have had for preparation for Tokyo 2021.”
Asked whether there is a danger that this time apart from one another could have an effect on team spirit or morale, Shields believes that ultimately, it comes down to the individual.
‘Not everyone in a team has to get on’
“In my experience, not everyone in a team has to get on, or be friends, that’s probably unrealistic. But what must be there is that sense of trust, that feeling of everyone playing their part.
“Each person must take responsibility for their own actions, their own training, nutrition etc and trust that others are doing the same.
“Just like on the pitch, there is a trust and an understanding that your team-mate is going to be where you need them to be, when you need them to be.
“Total trust is one of the ultimate factors in climbing. You are literally trusting your life to the other person controlling your rope.
“This is not something that happens immediately with everyone. Some of the time it is something that is worked on over time and gaining experience.”
All of Shields’ achievements have not come easy either and she is no stranger to adversity.
Suffered multiple organ failure at 27
At just 27, she experienced multiple organ failure, which took her months to recover from and in 2018 a serious cycling accident left her with severe head and neck injuries.
But her grit and determination has never waned and perhaps most importantly, she has always asked for help when she’s needed it.
“I would really encourage people to talk and to be really honest about how they are feeling.
“I am a firm believer that if I am not being honest about how I am feeling and being true to myself, then I cannot be adding to a team.
“This is something that I have worked a lot on with the hockey squad, encouraging them to be really honest about how they are feeling, because if they do this and recognise how they feel, they can be a better team player.
‘Climbers do not have a death wish’
“It’s no secret that climbing mountains comes with risks, but these are always calculated risks.
“Climbers do not have a death wish, in fact we absolutely love living.
“All the climbs are researched, studied and we make sure we have the skill set to try and climb that particular route.
“However, nature is a wonderful, powerful, unpredictable force.
“I have had friends die, through no fault of their own, due to mother nature hitting back.
“These are the times in my life when I’ve realised that I needed to talk and I needed help to work through the consequences of losing loved ones and friends.
“This is no different at the moment for sportspeople, or for anyone, who is feeling the pressures of the current situation.
“I would really encourage anyone who feels like they need to talk to reach out.”