THERE’S no doubt about it, running is therapy. As a wise man once said, “if you don’t have answers to your problems after a four-hour run, you ain’t getting them”.
Running clears the mind, gives you focus, and makes light work of all the day’s worries. You feel sustained after it, or at least this has been my experience as a fairly recent convert over the last 18 months.
Fine Gael councillor Tom Ruddle however, a former cross-country runner, certainly has benefited from his years of burning tacky in the open countryside.
Tom, who was first elected as a representative for Newcastle West in 2019, is a relaxed and grounded individual with a great outlook on life.
The running has certainly done him no harm, and his easy-going and jovial nature is infectious to be around. In short, he is a tonic.
I recently met up with the Cathaoirleach of Newcastle West for a light jaunt around the track at the brand new Limerick Regional Athletics Hub.
This state-of-the-art facility consists of a world-class standard eight-lane synthetic athletics track, and associated track and field facilities with a surrounding walking path.
Now, neither of us are going to cause Usain Bolt any sleepless nights, but Cllr Ruddle was keen to show off the West Limerick town’s newest sporting arena. And I can’t say I blame him, it is certainly impressive.
‘The running came naturally to me’
But before the starter gun, I take the opportunity to ask the former athlete about his love of sport, particularly running, and where it all started.
“I grew up in Shanagolden and I got very involved in running as a young fella of about 14 or or 15,” Tom tells me.
“They started a Community Games back in 1976 and within a year I ran for Ireland at schools level and I ran internationally for a couple of years then in cross country and track.
“They started Community Games in the parish of Shanagolden and I remember they had a sports day in Foynes one day. I came in late. I was eating an ice cream and they said to me would I run the 1,500 metres. I didn’t know what 1,500 metres was so I tipped around for a couple of laps. The next thing I thought ‘this is easy’. I was never actually beaten until I went to Mosney. I came third or something like that in the final, but that was my first defeat ever.
“I was fairly handy. I was winning all the way up along so it just came to me naturally. I went to Munchin’s then and there was PJ O’Sullivan coaching. I was a middle to long-distance runner. The 800 metres would have been too short for me. It’s probably one of the hardest races you will ever run because it’s a sprint and it’s endurance as well. In the 1,500 you have a little bit more time to get into a race and it is more tactical. I always liked that part of it.
“It probably helped me for later life because you need a fierce level of concentration. If you lose your concentration in a race you are in trouble because you start to realise how bad your body is feeling,” he confesses.
“We had a fantastic athletics team. We won the All-Ireland. We got on the Irish team. Frank O’Mara, the world champion from Caherdavin, was at school at the same time and we had the most fantastic team. We represented Ireland as well together and I made friends out of it.
“The running came naturally to me. I grew up on a farm and I was used to following cattle into neighbours’ properties and trying to bring them back out. It was just automatic, but I never actually ran until I was 15 so I didn’t know if I was any good or not until that stage.”
‘We were eating the heads off each other at one stage nearly’
The Fine Gael man has lived in Newcastle West for the past 30 years and says that his time there has been marked by involvement as a volunteer in a number of local organisations, all of which work towards enhancing the quality of life for the people of this community.
His youthful passion for athletics at international level has also evolved into a determination to improve sporting facilities for all levels of ability in West Limerick.
Tom had the privilege of first acting as chairperson of Newcastle West Rovers, then, following their successful merger with Newcastle West AFC, acting as co- chairperson of Newcastle West Town FC.
“I got the two competing clubs here in town together. Sure, we were eating the heads off each other at one stage nearly. We were at loggerheads a lot of the time.
“To be honest about it, it could have been any sport I got involved in but I just like the soccer. I’m mad for sports. I was helping out when we had no facilities and a portacabin. I went away anyway and I got a few people together and we decided we needed better facilities.”
Tom’s dream of high-quality playing fields and a clubhouse at Woodfield in Newcastle West was made a reality in 2017 for 650 boys and girls and 100 adults through the hard work of a volunteer group that he says he was happy to lead.
“We joined up in 2017 and we actually had Roy Keane out for the opening. It was brilliant. We have 500 members in the club and it’s really going from strength to strength. It just made sense to join forces.
“One thing that stands out for me was, in 2012, I started up a thing called ‘Football For All’, which was hard to get going but we decided to take in on for children with additional needs and autism.
“We started out with only five coming each week and I was doing the coaching myself and the kids loved it. They wear the same jerseys as our adult teams and it went from strength to strength and we’ve about 40 youngsters now playing.
“We have one boy that played for Ireland in Football For All. He’s deadly. And they play for Munster. We have one fantastic man, Christy Carroll, his son used to be involved in it and he got very involved then in the coaching and took it over from me, and he has it driven on,” Tom, the club’s president, proudly says.
‘You just drive on’
Tom himself was offered a scholarship to a college in the US in his youth on the strength of his running prowess. Unfortunately, as a light limp following a more recent First Communion party kick about supports, he was very susceptible to injury, which ruled him out of pursuing athletics at another level.
“I had a couple of injuries and I shagged up my leg about 10 years ago. I was kicking ball at a communion party and the next thing my knee gave way and I ended up in hospital, so I am very wary of that since.”
The benefits of running have clearly stayed with Tom and his composed and carefree demeanour are evidence of this.
“I found it did the world of good. You often see clearer after a run. You get a whole new perspective after it and you probably see the longer picture as well. Sometimes you can feel you are in a hole but things always improve or change. Even if you are only barely running, you are doing that bit of exercise.
“When you are running, you focus on the guys in front of you and you just go with that. I remember running a race in Limerick years ago, it was a 10 mile road race, and after the first mile or so I was getting well back and there was about 400 in it. The leaders had taken off but sometimes you lose that focus but I got myself going again and I actually won it. I thought it was one of my great comebacks.
“Sometimes you can get a stitch but you’ll outrun a stitch. If you didn’t do well you could be hard on yourself, that’s the one thing about competitive athletics, it’s so singular. Even though you might have all the training done and everything, you never actually know until you have a mile or two done how you are actually going to feel. Sometimes you can surprise yourself.
“I remember Robert Costello, a great athlete in Limerick, saying you have more bad days than good days, and it’s true. That’s life. Running as well, there will be certain days that you hit it correct and it all works. There’s great life lessons in there. You just drive on.”
The 62-year-old local representative suggests his wife Marie and two adult children, Andrew and Blathnaid, might argue that he isn’t as fit as he would like to believe. Still, between Council commitments, auctioneering work, voluntary duties, and family life, Tom has more than enough on his plate to keep him active and going from early until late.
The fact he is laidback and doesn’t let stress get the better of him will certainly hold him in good stead as well. It would take a lot to rise him, I suggest.
“Well, I try and be that way. I remember doing a course actually on meditation about eight years ago and it is something that helps you in a lot of areas because you might have people at loggerheads against each other. A lot of it is about getting them to calm down and let them see there’s a way around this. It kind of helped myself as well because often before you say something you are better off to step back or count to 10. Sometimes someone might annoy you but you are better off just calming it down.
“I am not a hothead – my wife might say differently now, I might be a street angel and house devil, I don’t know – but I think you get more done too if you are calm rather than working against yourself.”
Cllr Ruddle considers himself a man with a problem-solving approach to various issues that arise for local people, whether those issues affect an individual or the community.
“I really enjoy achieving stuff and getting stuff done. I really enjoy helping people with issues. I always try and find a way and, I suppose, I have a good bit of life experience with business and everything that I might see a way through that someone else mightn’t see. I think I can offer that as well to people.”
‘I’d like to get another run at it’
Before we take to the running track in Newcastle West for a not too taxing saunter, I ask Tom if he is gearing up for the bigger race ahead in next June’s Local Elections.
“I’ll have a go. I’d like to get another run at it. I do really enjoy the work. I feel I have time for it as well. I have an office here in The Square and I am free to meet anytime. Look, local politics is more about the people than the badge. If you go for national politics, it is often the badge and if you are doing something wrong you can cross a party line. If you do a job like auctioneering as well, it puts you very in touch with people. I am a social animal and I love meeting people and getting out there. I am well able to take a giving out to as well.
“People might say ‘what does a councillor do’ but at the end of the day you need a councillor because it is a voice for the people here in the town and you are trying to get things done. We can push things for people.
“I came from the community side as I already had done an awful lot for the community so that piqued my interest as well.
“The one thing I found different to business was that decisions could be made and acted upon quickly, but nothing happens fast in local government because no guy is going to make a decision and follow up on it straight away. He has to get approval from somewhere. It goes through three or four different departments. There’s probably too much bureaucracy. So really you have to learn how to manoeuvre around it. If I go in too hard, they’ll say, ‘feck him’. You have to have the right relationships to get stuff done.
“I do enjoy it. I am at the right time of life for it. I have time to give it. It just needs time.”
Running, they say, is a great metaphor for life because you get out of it what you put into it. This certainly rings true of Tom Ruddle.