'I look like s**t most of the time. The idea that I'm considered an influencer is funny to me'
Derval O’Rourke is one of Ireland’s most successful athletes. She is a former world indoor champion sprint hurdler, four-time European medallist and three-time Olympian.
The Cork woman achieved all of this on a relatively meagre budget – fighting for her own funding, taking a telesales job after the 2004 Olympics to fund training for her next season, hitching lifts to compete on the European stage to save on transport costs.
There were also plights of sickness and injury. Just before the 2004 Olympics in Athens she was struck down by appendicitis, and an achilles injury eventually forced her to retire.
The tenacity required to train and compete on international stages has stood to her now, she says. Nothing is ever as hard as being a professional athlete.
“It makes you more grateful than anything. I’m really grateful that so many people were willing to buy into that dream. You want to run faster? We’ll help you do that. I think it stood to me, you know.”
“Even with writing the cookbooks (Food For the Fast Lane and The Fit Foodie), doing the website, nothing is as hard as being a professional athlete. You’re privileged in so many ways being a professional athlete but it’s very tough. It’s so results orientated, if things go wrong like if you get injured, the repercussions are quite big.”
“If you do it, it makes you feel great,” she adds.
These days, Derval spends her time online, on her website Derval.ie and chatting to her 26,000 Instagram followers. But don’t be tempted to race out of the starting blocks and call her an influencer.
“I look like s**t most of the time. I just don’t care. Also, I never really plan what I’m going to say on my Insta stories, I just go on for a chat. I just clicked on someone’s Insta stories this morning and they were so glam, I just thought I look like s**t.”
“I actually keep getting loads of emails at the moment asking me to do brand work because I’m an influencer which I think is funny because I can’t even influence my three-year-old because she knows her own mind and she knows exactly what clothes she wants to wear.”
Derval’s business partner is Greg O’Gorman, who was marketing director for 13 years at the Kilkenny Group. The duo’s aim is to create a healthy-living website Derval.ie, which operates a subscription model where members get access to recipes, and fitness tips.
Models like Rosanna Davison and Roz Purcell, influencers like Rosie Connolly, or actress Gwyneth Paltrow who runs Goop, are not her competition, she says.
“I’ve never been on (Gwyneth Paltrow’s) Goop, and people keep talking to me about Goop. The only way I look at it, to be honest, is in America, there’s a lot of subscription-based health websites and I would have looked at a lot of them. With that business model, if you create revenue, you can create a lot more content.”
“I get a lot of requests to do paid partnerships on social media, and it’s something that I don’t do. I said ‘no’ to five different things in January, maybe I’m the idiot, I don’t know. But I know what I can do in a really genuine way on the website, and I don’t want anything to distract from that. It’s about the long-term gains, gaining more traction, and helping people long-term.”
She added: “I’ve been a known public face for a while, so I don’t have that ego driving me where I want to be Insta famous, I just don’t care about that. I felt the easiest way to do [the website) is to do it with my brand. But I always talk about how great the people I work with are.”
“It was really important to me to get the price point right and for people to be able to drop out if they want. I felt I could do this at a lower price and have long-term members.”
Derval, who is seven months pregnant with her second baby, lives in Cork with her husband Peter O’Leary, an Olympic sailor, and their three year-old daughter Daphne.
Derval met Peter on a return flight from the 2008 Beijing Olympics where they both competed for Ireland. On their first date, Peter, who works in insurance, very quickly got a sense of her tenacity.
“When I first met him I told him I wanted to be the best runner in the world… Not a lot of people say that when they’re on dates,” she laughs.
“He’s very used to my ambitious motivated personality. I’ve always been like this, I love taking on tasks and projects and making them work really well.
“He’s super supportive but it doesn’t make or break me in any way. I think women are really strong.”
And would she agree with Culture Minister Josepha Madigan’s idea that women who hope to get into politics should get a “good husband”? Could this apply to women in business, too?
“Listen, I think there are so many ways to skin a cat, there are so many great successful women out there and they’re doing it their own way. It’s so individual. I’m fortunate in that Peter’s really engaged in what I do. I’ve always worked for myself, so he’s never expected anything else from me. I think he’d be confused if I wasn’t motivated.”
“I know lots of other women in business and they’re so similar. Some people are just driven that way. I’d be a disaster working for someone else. I just like being my own boss. I like having that impact that I make by making my own decisions.”
Raising Daphne, their hopes are to raise a strong girl who knows her own mind, she says.
“Always my hope for her is to be a strong person and happy, that’s a big thing for us. We’re always quite conscious of that. You have to be strong especially as a girl. I was lucky that I had really good people who were really good to me, I was a strong character and they allowed me to be my own mind. I kinda hope she’ll be her own person and strong.”
“I never care about the adulation that comes with [social media]. The social media thing never bothers me – the likes and the followers and all of that. Even when I was running, I just cared about how I felt about it.”
Derval’s strategy she says is to promote health and wellbeing in others.
“When I was running, people always think that I did it on my own, but I had a big team behind me, and I always knew my limitations – if I felt I needed help with nutrition I thought I’m going to get the best person to tell me what to eat.”
“Oddly enough, I never really worry about other people, probably because I was a professional athlete for a very long time. If I worried about other people, I never would have raced. I actually don’t consume a lot of other people’s content. I’m really focused on being the person who brings information to my members – for my food programme, I wrote with a nutritional scientist, for the fitness programme I’ve written it with a personal trainer, and for the focus programme which is all about mental wellbeing, I’m going to bring in some cognitive behavioural therapy from professionals.”
“It was never about my personal brand, it was about me bringing information that was very interesting to me and bringing it to people in a consumable way.”
“For people to be healthy, you need different things at different times. Sometimes I need better food, now because I’m pregnant I’ve looked at strategies to get fitter while pregnant.”
“I kept thinking of me and my friends who don’t wear make-up everyday, who go out for walks and do simple stuff, and want to make life really, really good.”
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