By Zara Hill
It’s not every day that an Olympic Champion is in town, so when boxing hero Katie Taylor arrived at Ardscoil Mhuire in March to surprise TY student Stephanie O’Halloran, there was tremendous excitement all around. Little did Stephanie know, she was about to be crowned SKY Sports ‘’Living for Sports Irish Student of the Year.’’ Stephanie from Brackernagh was chosen to take part in her school’s Sky Sports; ‘Living for Sport’ project in 2013, following the tragic passing of her father. The initiative of the award is to celebrate the outstanding achievements of students who have gained confidence and life skills as a result of their involvement in sport. Beginning in 2013, Stephanie was one of 20 girls from her class in Ardscoil Mhuire who took part in the programme. Through hard work and dedication, she was selected as the Irish ‘Student of the Year’ by a panel of judges for her participation in the SSLFS programme that helped her to overcome a challenging time in her life.
Throughout the programme Stephanie organised successful sporting events for children with learning disabilities both in her school and in Garbally College. She described this as a great experience, signifying the incredible journey she has made. ‘’I loved organising these events. It was so cool seeing people have fun doing something that we organised. I also gained confidence speaking in front of people.’’ Stephanie also had the opportunity to travel to the SSLFS live event in Dublin in April where she and her friend Aisling encouraged primary school children to participate in new sports. It is easy to understand why this inspirational girl was chosen as the Irish Sky Sports Living for Sports representative. However, when Olympic Champion and Sky Academy Ambassador Katie Taylor came to surprise her in the middle of a school quiz, Stephanie was completely overwhelmed. ‘’I couldn’t believe that an Olympic Gold medallist was in my school. I was shaking. It was so cool to get a selfie with her and she told me to just keep doing what I’m doing.’’ In a Sky interview following the big surprise, Katie Taylor described the local student as ‘’a girl full of confidence’’ before adding, ‘’she was born for greatness’’. On being announced as Ireland’s SSLFS representative, Stephanie flew to London for the Official Awards ceremony. ‘’London was so fun. We got a tour around the Sky Sports News Headquarters and met some of the Sky Sports athlete mentors. I also got to hold Michael McKillops Paralympic Gold Medals’’, she added proudly.
Stephanie’s success story has been the talk of the school according to her teacher Karen Usher who initiated the programme in 2013. ‘’The whole Sky Sports Living for Sport experience has had a huge impact on Ardscoil Mhuire in general. All of the pupils involved in school sport had the wonderful opportunity to meet former British heavy-weight boxer, Dermot Gascoyne and the Irish 400m Hurdles Champion Thomas Barr.’’ Karen added, ‘’the highlight of our involvement in SSLFS of course, was our very own Stephanie O’Halloran being nominated for the SSLFS Student of the Year Award by Dermot Gascoyne.
It was a huge honour for Stephanie and very exciting to have Sky in the PE hall for a day, filming Stephanie and her project group.’’ Karen has been involved in the SSLFS projects for the last two years and has seen how the programme has benefited over 40 pupils in the school. Stephanie has been recognised as a true role model by her peers, who recently elected her to become the Student Council Representative for her class. Karen Usher said; ‘’It’s a testament to Stephanie how she took the skills she learned and applied them to her own life. Her increase in confidence, self-esteem and happiness is not only noticeable in the club, but also in the classroom and school corridors.’’ The entire school community is proud of Stephanie and her great achievement.
Stephanie’s class tutor, Ms Hackett describes Stephanie as ‘’a happy go lucky child’’ who ‘’always seems to be smiling and having fun with her class mates.’’ Her maths teacher Mr Hardiman remarked; ‘’she is always pushing herself and her confidence has improved greatly. She is extremely well liked in her class by all.’’ Stephanie is ‘’a lovely student’’ according to history teacher Ms Shields, while Claire Dempsey her English teacher believes she has really ‘’come out of her shell’’. Other words used by teachers and friends to describe Stephanie were; polite, helpful and always pleasant – an A+ performance all around. Stephanie is considering pursuing a course in Photography once she finishes Secondary School – however, for now she plans to enjoy the rest of TY and continue to grow in confidence
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