'The baby's due in September. I'm really scared, but there are exciting times ahead' - Kenneth Egan
Olympian Kenneth Egan tells Joanna Kiernan about being sober for five years, local politics and becoming a father
I have always thought there was something incredibly likeable about Kenneth Egan. In fact, as we meet in The Laurels pub in Clondalkin, I find myself manically sticking my hand up in the air and waving at him like an old friend, despite the fact that we have never met before.
Honesty, particularly when it is delivered with Kenneth's blunt and, at times, humorous manner, is always admirable. Despite his struggles with the fame that followed winning a silver medal at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 and his subsequent alcohol addiction, the much-loved South Dublin Councillor has always been refreshingly open.
Last Thursday, Kenneth celebrated five years of sobriety.
"It's amazing, the whole compulsion of the drink is totally gone," he tells me with a smile.
"Once that final bell rang in Beijing that was it, the feathers were up and I just went bananas. The fame and all nearly killed me. I didn't know how to handle any of it.
"Coming home and everyone wanting a piece of you, telling you you're a great bloke and your ego is sky high, but my self-worth was at rock bottom at that point.
"I didn't care about myself and I abused myself in more ways than one. It took me two years to realise that, but I am one of the lucky ones who came off alcohol at a young age. I was 28 when I gave it up. You see some war stories of people in their 40s and 50s who have lost everything."
As well as his work with South Dublin County Council, Kenneth is now in his second year of a two-year diploma course in addiction studies with Cuan Mhuire, at Galilee House in Athy, Co Kildare.
"I am in my second year now, actually dealing with clients for one-to-ones and in groups, just trying to get a better understanding of where their addiction is coming from and how they can cope with it and move on in life," he explains.
Kenneth plans to continue on and study for a third year to obtain his degree in the area.
"A friend of mine, Eric Donovan, got me involved. He is an ex-boxer, we travelled the world together, we were two peas in a pod. He started this course and he was telling me about it. So he is a year ahead of me now," Kenneth says.
Kenneth has found that his studies complement his council work.
"It's tough, but I am managing the two," he smiles.
"To actually sit and listen to someone when you are doing a one-to-one, it's not like when you talk to people normally. This is real listening, you are listening for emotions and it is hard work. I love it.
"I love finding out how people are because I have been at the tail end of it. I know exactly what it is like. I know the power of addiction, it's crazy
"I like to help other lads and I think they can relate to me because I'm not hiding anything. I am as honest as the day is long. I don't care what people think of me, those days are over."
"I have been there, done that and worn the T-shirt. I'm not just reading it out of a book and what I am learning really helps me with the council work too. With the five years I have in there, I want to do my best. I want to help the youth in the area, get kids involved in sport and try and work on mental health and addictions in the area
"Housing is also a big issue. You have families with three generations living in the one house, there are no council houses. So it's been an interesting first year and I have got a few things done, but it can be a slow process."
Both Kenneth's studies and his foray into politics came at a time in his life when he admits he felt a bit rudderless.
"A year-and-a-half ago I was in a bit of a limbo
"I was thinking 'right, will I open up my own gym or will I travel the world?' I had retired in 2013 and thought 'well what am I going to do now?'
"Whether that's a shame on me or a shame on the association - the Irish Amateur Boxing Association - I don't know. I had put over 20 years into boxing and there was nothing there for me then.
"Maybe I should have put my foot down and got some sort of education as I was training, but I was in that bubble of competing all the time, travelling the world and there was no fall back.
"I felt the brunt of that when I retired," Kenneth continues.
"It even went as far back as when the final bell rang in the Olympics. As soon as that bell rang and the fight was over, I dropped to my knees and I was thinking 'what am I going to do now?' I was only 26. I had the rest of my life to live, but I had achieved my goal, there was nothing after that and that was scary.
"Of course, that fuelled the drinking and all that happened after that, but even when I sobered up, I had to make decisions."
Kenneth was then approached by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to run as a Fine Gael candidate in the elections for South Dublin County Council.
"To be honest, it was a scary thing to take on. I was relying on people to give me their vote, knocking on doors and it was a hard few months.
"I got elected, thank God, and I have been enjoying the job ever since," he says.
Kenneth is not just some vague figurehead. He can be seen out and about, meeting members of the community every week. He is known, trusted and approachable.
This September 19, Kenneth will be leading the charge in a 10km Fun Run in aid of Console, organised by The Laurels Charity Crew.
Last year the same event, which Kenneth also supported, raised funds to install lifesaving defibrillators for 29 schools and 10 shops in the local area.
"Everyone's living at a thousand miles an hour and no one is really talking to anyone anymore. That's a problem," Kenneth tells me.
"So hopefully we'll raise a few bob for Console and get the message out there. If you can catch someone at the right time, or if you know that Console are there to talk, it could save someone's life."
Last Christmas, Kenneth proposed to his girlfriend Karen Sullivan. The couple had been together before his success at the Beijing Olympics. They split a short time afterwards before reuniting a number of years later.
"We looked at a few places alright, but the wedding's been put back because she's due now in September," he beams.
"We got engaged in December and found out she was pregnant in January. I told her she'd be grand, we could have the wedding a couple of months after she had the baby, but oh no, she wants to be right and all of this crap," he laughs.
"So we have no date pencilled in, but it will be in Ireland. This child is due now on the September 30, so it's exciting times. I'm scared sh**less, but it's great.
"It's a funny one because I was with Karen before the Olympics and then it came back around full circle, five years later," Kenneth adds.
"I think there are so many people out there in relationships that are probably just thinking 'okay, well I'll settle with this one' and they've let their true love pass. I'm lucky I didn't. I had relationships after we split up, but it wasn't right. To get her back, I am blessed," he smiles.
"She's a great young one. It's fairytale stuff. I never thought I would get her back after so long. We are in a really good place. Life is good."
Runners and walkers are being asked to play their part in the fight against suicide by registering for the Laurels Charity Crew 10k Fun Run/Walk in aid of Console on September 19th at 2pm in Corkagh Park. For more details see the Laurels Charity Crew Facebook Page or via precisiontiming.net