RTÉ Sport’s Evanne Ni Chuilinn talks to Róisín Healy about work and motherhood, how we speak about wellbeing and why we need to better support families affected by suicide and mental health issues

In our May issue, Evanne Ni Chuilinn speaks about the thrill of reporting on Ireland’s greatest sporting moments, and why 14 years into her career she is determined to seek out new challenges. Evanne doesn’t hold back when it comes to issues close to her heart, and made too many moving and insightful remarks to fit in just two pages in the magazine. As well as being an ambitious journalist, she is proud to be a working mother. But she is tired of people assuming that childcare is solely her concern and not her husband’s. She loves to exercise for her physical and emotional wellbeing, but is conscious that for many out there, more serious intervention is needed to cope with mental illness. And she is a sister who lost a brother in devastating circumstances, who is willing to voice her pain, so that others don’t feel so alone. Away from the cameras and the composed demeanour of the journalist we know and respect, is a compassionate person to take inspiration from.

Let’s stop asking mothers how they ‘manage to juggle’

Evanne has two children, Séimí and Peigí, with her husband Brian Fitzsimons. “The thing about ‘trying to’ juggle work and kids makes me laugh a lot of the time because it’s not just me juggling it, it’s my husband juggling as well and often my mother too if she is helping us out, it’s nothing no one else in the country isn’t doing, my hours are just a bit different,” she says. She was eager to get back to work after having her kids, and enjoys that they can see she has goals and ambitions of her own. “I was home with my son for seven months and while that was brilliant to have that time with him when he was very small, I needed to come back as I felt my identity was tied up in my job,” Evanne says. “I think it’s good that my kids see that their mam goes to the gym and goes to work, that’s the kind of house I grew up in. I would like to emulate what my mam and dad did for me, and set an example that you can go out and achieve what you want to achieve.” There are things she does miss out on, having to travel and work evenings and weekends for work. “It’s a privilege to have this job but it does take you away from things. It’s ironic that a lot of people working in sports broadcasting cannot play team sport. I used to but I can’t commit to training and matches because of the hours involved. It’s a sacrifice you make, just like with family life. When I went to Rio I was away for six weeks, and my son was starting school. I came home for his first day of school but I had to go back out again. Those are the things you have to weigh up.”

Put your healthy pair of lungs to use for a worthy cause

She has made time to take up running again, all for a great cause. Evanne is a Cystic Fibrosis ambassador for the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon, taking place on 3 June. “I am very humbled. I am so lucky to have a healthy set of lungs, to be able to run this mini marathon for CF Ireland and it is a privilege for me to do that. We are trying to get 1,000 women to sign up and I think that’s doable.” You can sign up here. Evanne has always been a lover of sport and exercise, and finds it boosts her wellbeing. “Exercise is very important to me. I don’t enjoy getting up at the crack of dawn and going to the gym. At the same time then if I don’t do it then I am not going to do it. I notice a change in my demeanour when I do it. I am more relaxed and I am not sweating the small stuff.”

She feels very strongly about ensuring people don’t suggest that exercise is a cure for mental illness. “Exercise helps my wellbeing but that’s not to say that it is a fix for someone who has mental health difficulties or an illness. That is something we haven’t quite got around. It’s all well and good for lifestyle bloggers to say ‘go for a run and eat broccoli’, but some people need more than that. Some people need intervention and psychological and medical treatment. There is a fine line there and you can make people feel more vulnerable by suggesting going for a run is going to fix you. We have to be very careful about the language that we use around that. Exercise isn’t enough for some people and it can make them feel more inadequate to suggest that it’s enough.”

Share pain, so more can heal

In 2013 Evanne’s brother Cormac died by suicide, and she has spoken about her family’s loss to raise awareness of the struggles people are dealing with everyday. “It’s a bit of an internal struggle as I don’t want to be that open. My family is very private and that is the way I was brought up. So it’s a catch 22 because I do want to be private but I feel if we don’t talk about things it is just going to compound the problem,” Evanne says. “There are so many families going through it and not enough people are talking about it. The statistics are still coming out, and I don’t think we are dealing with it very well and I don’t think we are dealing with people who are suicidal very well, or with the families left behind.” Making the decision to talk about Cormac’s death is incredibly difficult, but Evanne doesn’t want people to keep the burden of loss to themselves. “It’s not that I feel a responsibility, but if someone isn’t going to talk about it, nobody is going to talk about it. If I have a platform, no matter how small it is, if it helps one other sister who has lost a brother come to terms with trying to make sense of the whole thing, which by the way you just can’t, then it is worth it for me to talk about it. Because really it is harrowing for a family. I don’t particularly want it to come up when people google my name. But am I just not going to talk about it the way people haven’t for decades? No. That just leads to more secrecy and problems. There has been too much of that in Ireland.”

Read more from Evanne in the May issue of Irish Country Magazine, out now.

Words: Róisín Healy | Photography: Rita Slattery

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