Sports Institute of NI at Jordanstown helps athletes peak
Tucked away behind the main building at the University of Ulster's Jordanstown campus is the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland.
It is where the elite sports men and women from Northern Ireland come to hone and maximise their skills and abilities.
The institute delivers a range of services to support local athletes and coaches to help them compete on a world stage.
"We work with the coach primarily to identify what they believe the athlete needs most," said Peter McCabe, athletes services manager at the institute.
"Then we try to add in the sports services we have - they range from strength and conditioning, sports medicines and disciplines, science, performance skills which deals with the psychological aspects of sport.
"It is highly likely in an athlete's career that they are going to need all of those different disciplines at some point - the coach has to decide what is the highest priority for the athlete now."
The centre was set up in 2002.
"Obviously Northern Ireland had some people who had gone out and performed really well on a world stage but often it was in spite of a system rather than because of one and they were perhaps trying to make connections themselves and find people elsewhere in the world to support them," said Mr McCabe.
End Quote Lisa Kearney Judo competitor at London 2012
I was happy with my performance but not my result. It was a close contest”
Lisa Kearney represented Ireland in judo at the Olympic Games - she is taking a well-earned rest after a gruelling two years of competitions and preparations for London 2012.
The 23-year-old from Belfast took up the discipline when she was eight. It was when she left secondary school that she decided to pursue it full-time.Sacrifices
She said her decision to dedicate her life to judo was a "lifestyle choice".
"On one hand there are sacrifices but I am getting to do what I love to do - travelling the world and seeing different things; I've had so many different experiences," she said.
"It is really tough at times but I definitely think it's worth it, especially the last two years, as I really did push myself to new limits just to qualify for the Olympics.
"I was happy with my performance but not my result. It was a close contest," she said.
She started using the Sports Institute in 2006 after winning gold in both the junior and senior Commonwealth tournaments.
"It came at a really good time for me because I was injured at the time and straight away I had two operations, one on each thumb," she recalls.
"I had the absolute best medical and physio attention that I could possibly get.
"The amount of time they spend with their athletes, I don't know any other athletes that can get the treatment we get in the Sports Institute.
"There's a whole range of services I use. The support they have given me is phenomenal and I wouldn't have qualified for the Olympics if it wasn't for them."
Coleraine rower Richard Archibald competed in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games.Support
"When I started out, it was more athlete-driven, so I made more of the decisions myself - I chose where I trained, how I trained," he said.
"That changed for me after the Athens Olympics because I felt that I needed to do more to get more out of my training and that's when I went looking for support, particularly for strength and conditioning and that's how I came into contact with the institute.
"For the four years after that physically, athletically, and generally around my injury management, I was better supported because I was in the institute."
Having given up rowing professionally, he took up the post of performance co-ordinator at the Sports Institute.
"Having been at the Athens and Beijing Olympics, I think we had eight or nine athletes at each of those and I understand how difficult it is to get to the Olympics so in my mind to get more athletes there is a very positive first step but then the bounce on that is actually more medals, ultimately that's what it's got to be about," he said.
"To get more athletes there was the first step and I'm just really pleasantly surprised that we've come back with so many medals so quickly because if we send 20 athletes from NI and we come back with five medals, that's a 25% return, that's really strong.
"We have a lot of potential that still hasn't come to the fore so I'm very positive about Rio and beyond."
Another athlete who has benefited from the support and services at the institute is 2008 Paralympic double-gold medal winner Jason Smyth.
End Quote Richard Archibald SINI performance co-ordinator
If we send 20 athletes from Northern Ireland and we come back with five medals, that's a 25% return, that's really strong. ”
He won them in the 100m and 200m in Beijing, setting world records in both races.
The 25-year-old from Eglinton also competes in mainstream competitions and missed out on qualifying for the 2012 Games by four hundredths of a second.Luck
"Like every boy I played football all the time on the street," he said.
"I started athletics when I was 16, I got started through my school, Limavady Grammar, and my teacher asked me would I go to an athletics club.
"I went but didn't really want to so it was kind of a bit of luck that got me started and it's just tumbled on to where it is now."
He is preparing for the 100m and 200m at the Paralympic Games, which begin on 29 August.
"I always look at it and think, hang on, it's a 10-second race but I train 11 months of the year, six days of the week, how does that work?" he said.
"Without the support of the Sports Institute, I definitely wouldn't be the same athlete.
"Without them, the reality of it is I wouldn't run as quick as I have or achieved things that I have.
"I wouldn't have been able to keep many injuries away that I've had, to be able to try and overcome them."Proud moment
Jason hopes the buzz of the London 2012 games will inspire young people to play sport.
"The moments of getting to compete in stadiums, like in Beijing in front of 90,000, to stand on the podium representing your country and hear the national anthem. They are moments that you will never forget," he recalled.
"Don't get me wrong, there's so much hard work has to go into it, but if you are one of the those people who are willing to, the joy and the success you can have far outweighs anything else you can, I suppose, feel."
Many athletes may be taking some rest time but their thoughts are already turning to the Olympic games in Rio in 2016.
"We've had some athletes who experienced their first Olympic games in London, people like Sycerika McMahon and Lisa Kearney, now for those athletes to achieve that so young in their careers is fantastic," said Mr McCabe.
"They will have had a fire lit inside them to want to go on towards Rio and to lift their performance and that's exactly what we need - they're not the only ones.
"Ultimately they will move forward, hopefully in the Commonwealth Games and the next Olympics, and maybe even the one beyond that.
"That's what we need, we need new role models, we need people excited by sport and also people who can achieve and show others that they can achieve.
"We'll keep working very hard to make our contribution and sports will too."