“Competing in skiing in the US was a wealthy sport, and we, the brothers from Ireland, were not part of the elite; but we liked the challenge, us against all the rich kids. We didn’t even have our own skis, but we kept winning. I quit all other sports and focused on skiing and my dream of representing Ireland at the Olympics became more and more realistic. I worked so hard… I put all my time and focus on that goal only. My life was all about skiing. Before I knew it, I was carrying the Irish flag at the Olympics… It was an overwhelmingly amazing experience, you feel like the whole world is spinning around you and everyone is there to celebrate you! I wasn’t prepared for that. I think I was too young to have such an experience… You work your entire life for one moment, one dream, but then it’s just gone, like if they switch off the light on you, and nobody prepares you for the void. As an athlete, you’re taught to get on with the pain and be tough. It’s a good lesson, but the sport itself is an escape, and when the sport is no longer there, there’s no outlet for the rest of life’s challenges. After the Olympics, I had this idea that I just have to say ‘I’ve been to the Olympics’ and people would open doors for me… Well, I ended up driving an Uber for over a year. I suddenly felt worthless and without any goals in my life. I had to start from scratch. I put all my focus into driving, I quit all social activities and decided to save up for travelling the world. I knew travel makes you vulnerable, it puts you in uncomfortable positions and opens your mind to entirely different ways of thinking. I did 21 countries last summer. In learning about other people, you begin to learn more about yourself. I still have a long way to go to being myself again, but I’m confident I’ll get there. Eventually.”
This portrait is the first story of the new series from my recent trip to Pakistan. I spent 17 days trekking, meeting locals, and enjoying the beautiful culture and entertainment (and food) of this fascinating country. Keep an eye on stories to see more of what I got up to.
The background behind Conor is Attabad lake in the Hunza Valley, Pakistan. Part of the lake used to be Attabad village just a little over eight years ago. The lake was formed due to a massive landslide which killed 20‰ people and blocked the flow of the Hunza River for five months. The flooding has displaced 6,000 people from upstream villages and left them stranded (from land transportation routes). The lake reached 21km long and over 100 metres in depth by the first week of June 2010 when it began flowing over the landslide dam, completely submerging lower Shishkat and partly flooding Gulmit. The lake has since become a tourist attraction itself for its unique blue colour and dramatic mountain backdrop.