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News > Alumni > Zara Chases Olympic Dream

Zara Chases Olympic Dream

She's the former Sullivan pupil juggling a medical degree and aiming to make the Ireland Hockey Squad for this summer's Tokyo Olympics. Meet Zara Malseed.

15 Feb 2021
Alumni

Part of Class of 2015, Zara was the Captain of the Sullivan side that lifted the Ulster Schools Hockey Cup that year, defeating Banbridge Academy 2-1. These days she’s juggling her second degree and training 6 days a week as part of the Irish Ladies Hockey Squad with her sights firmly on making the team for the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

However, the path hasn’t always been a smooth one and there have been a few knocks along the way, studying for a degree she didn’t enjoy, picking up injuries and dropping off the Ireland radar.

On leaving school in 2015, Zara headed for the University of Edinburgh where a degree in Chemical Engineering awaited, despite having always thought she would study medicine.

I had always planned to do medicine at University, right from 2nd or 3rd form, but when I got to Sixth Form I changed my mind. Medicine seemed like a lot of work and I had a wobble and a change of heart.

That change of heart, and a desire to not have to study quite so hard led to a decision to study Chemical Engineering. Go figure.

I know!” laughs Zara. “I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. I was doing Maths and Chemistry and thought that Chemical Engineering would be less work than medicine but I didn’t particularly enjoy it.

To be honest, no one really likes Chemical Engineering so when you are with your classmates you’re all in the same boat and I’m pretty stubborn, so once I’d started it I was determined I’d finish the degree.

If she wasn’t enjoying her course, she was certainly enjoying other aspects of student life while playing both university and club hockey for the University of Edinburgh.

Zara began playing club hockey when she was aged 15, initially for Grosvenor Ladies and then moving to Ards Ladies in her final year of school when she was also picked up by the Ireland U18 set-up. However, despite her involvement, she dropped off the Ireland radar when she went to university in Scotland.

When I first went to university in Edinburgh I was carrying a bit of a back injury that I’d picked up when playing for Ireland U18s, and that combined with a full class schedule meant that I just wasn’t able to commit to flying backwards and forwards for sessions. I dropped off the Ireland programme altogether.

The lure of medicine remained strong, and when Zara graduated and returned to Holywood in 2019 she had already applied for and had gained a place to study Medicine at Queen’s beginning in September. 

She linked up with Ards Ladies again (as well as coaching Junior Hockey at Sullivan) and after some stand-out performances was back on the Ireland radar, helped in part by a good word from another former Sullivan pupil.

Gareth Grundie (class of 1997) is part of the Ards coaching setup and also an Assistant Coach with Ireland.

Gareth definitely put in a good word for me which helped with getting me brought into the Ireland U21 programme. I did one training camp with them in January 2020 and the following week was moved up to the Seniors. My first Irish National Camp was in February 2020 and I have been part of the extended squad since then."

Zara in action for Ards Ladies Hockey Club

As she’s playing at an elite level, Zara and the Irish Ladies Squad have been permitted to train throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The schedule is gruelling, particularly when combined with full time medical studies although moving mainly to online learning has helped Zara to fit everything in.

All our medical placements were cancelled due to Covid so learning is mainly online although we go in now and again to practice clinical skills. I look on the bright side though, it means that I can attend university even if I’m training in Dublin.

Zara trains Monday and Tuesday in Dublin, Thursday and Saturday in Belfast while Tuesday and Friday mornings are reserved for gym work at the Sports Institute facility at University of Ulster, Jordanstown.

Last month she was part of the Ireland squad that travelled to Murcia in Spain to play a 5 match friendly series, the first international matches for anyone in over a year.

It’s a huge commitment but Zara’s eyes are firmly on making the Ireland Squad for the European Hockey Championships in June and then the Olympics this summer in Tokyo, potentially joining a very small and elite club of Sullivan Olympians. All Covid-permitting of course.

Zara (right) and teammate Bethany Barr in Spain earlier this year with the Ireland Ladies Hockey Squad

But, does she look back fondly on her school days?

Absolutely. I’m still in regular touch with lots of people from school, in particular Rachel Barton, Caitlyn Young (both Class of 2015) and Emily Matchett (Class of 2014). In fact our whole year was quite a tight group.

We also got on well with our teachers at school. We played a lot of pranks and had a pet inflatable crocodile called Garth who we would leave in various classrooms all over school to see how long it would take our teachers to spot him.

Mrs Hutchinson (Head of Girls PE and Hockey Coach) was my favourite teacher. She was half teacher half coach and as the Hockey Captain we worked closely together. I also got on well with Mrs Swift, Mrs McDowell and Mrs McCullough who taught Maths and Miss Chambers in Chemistry.

Good luck to Zara in both her studies and her sport, she’s a terrific ambassador for Sullivan.

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