The Irish legend and global racewalking celebrity opened up to Stuart Clark about the emotional, financial and professional highs and lows that go with being the best in your business.
Rob Heffernan has won his fair share of gold, silver and bronzeware. Among the accolades is a bronze medal for the 2010 European Championships in Barcelona; he received that just last year, when his 4th place finish was bumped up after it was discovered the winner, Stanislav Emelyanov, was doping.
“With Emelyanov, it was obvious,” he says when asked about the race. “I know how many years it took for me to move up the ladder mentally and physically and this fella comes along at 19 years of age, blows the whole lot of us out of the way and wasn’t even breathing heavily.
“18 of that Russian group have been done for EPO (a banned performance enhancing drug)... 18! It’s incredible. It seems to have been systemic within that group of athletes.”
Rob is an athlete that makes a point to be vocal about his battle with depression and feelings of self-doubt. At the Athens Olympics in 2004, the Cork man was disqualified and admits he fell into an emotional pit on his return home.
“I was so, so upset, like,” he recalls. “I stayed in a caravan park in Youghal where my sister had a mobile home. I was on my own and completely depressed. I’d go for a walk on the beach and I’d be crying. It was just so heartbreaking. I wasn’t able to control it, I was devastated.”
Was there anything in the way of support from Athletics Ireland around this time?
“No, no. Nothing. No, no. You’re given your grant and you go away. I look back at a young Rob Heffernan, who obviously had a massive talent and think, ‘He should have been educated better’.”
Read the full interview with Rob Heffernan in the next issue of Hot Press, out tomorrow!