USPC International Tetrathlon Exchange - A Memorable Experience

In July 2018, the USPC held the International Tetrathlon Exchange in Tryon North Carolina, USA.

I have been a member of the Irish Pony Club for 12 years. Of those 12 years, I competed in Tetrathlon for 8 years. Without a doubt, the international Exchange of 2018 was the epitome of my Irish Pony Club career.
For the past two years my teammates and I have been training and looking forward to the exchange. After years of competing in Ireland and the UK we were finally given the opportunity to travel halfway across the world and represent our country at the highest possible level in tetrathlon.

Nine athletes were selected to travel to the USA following a selection criterion which involved trials held earlier in the year. The girls team consisted of four girls - me (Aoife Duggan McSweeney), Alex Stewart, Meadhbh Moynihan and Ellie Holohan. The Irish Boys team consisted of Jack Sargent, Tim O’ Brien, James Drumm and Liam Kelleher. James Coonan was also selected to join a team of mixed nationality, including the USA and Canada also. John Flood and Louise Kent also travelled with the team. John and Louise had so many roles on this trip of which I simply would not have enough paper to list them all. From chaperone to water boy, they catered for our every need.

Before we jetted off to the States we fundraised and organised team gear. To prepare for the States we had a training day in Limerick. Three of our Irish boys were also kept very busy before the exchange with their Leaving Cert. Their excellent results are a credit to them and represents how hard they worked to make the team and also achieve high grades.

Eleven very fit looking Paddies left Dublin airport on the 11th of July. Decked out in head to toe in Irish gear, we were wished the best of luck by our families before we crossed the Atlantic Ocean to arrive in Boston. We spent two very enjoyable days in Boston. From pier jumping to exploring China town, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

We were honoured with an invitation to the Irish Consulate while we were in Boston. We met and chatted with some very interesting people. If you know anyone in Boston looking for an Irish visa, we’ve got connections. We also had a very tasty brunch and probably ate a little too many cookies. After our exciting morning, we were then taken on a boat ride from the city to shuttle island for the evening to enjoy some sun. The following morning, we flew to Raleigh Durham International Airport.

Neat and tidy, we were greeted by Katie (the USPC international coordinator) at the airport where we also met with the Aussies. Our first place of residence was NCSU, North Carolina State University. The following few days were packed with ‘ice-breaking’ activities to encourage the teams to get to know each other. We were privileged to be allowed to use the campus facilities. In particular, the Swimming pool was state of art, home to several Olympians. Some of us even got to enjoy the diving pool.

Throughout the three weeks, we had various competitions. The first competition involved a 3k run and also a shoot. Needless to say, we found the terrain much different from our GAA pitches home in Ireland. In particular, we were not used to spotting highly venomous snakes whilst walking the running course. There was no fear of us as we had Liam Kelleher with us. The snake was no match for Liam’s powerful kick that he gets from all his swimming.
During the first week, we spent a great deal of time explaining to the other teams how to pronounce our names. In particular, they had great difficulty understanding the pronunciation of Aoife and of Meadhbh. Eventually we gave up and I just answered to ‘Effy’ for three weeks.

Our days were jam packed with activities. The USPC coordinated an excellent itinerary. We went white water rafting, rock climbing, tubing on the green river and much more. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves doing these and were very thankful that we could experience a culture very different from our own.
We also dedicated a few minutes each day towards our ‘tan’- or should I say ‘burn’. It wasn’t hard to find each other. Burned or freckled, we stood out.
The main competition was held in conjunction with the USPC National Championships over the last weekend in July. Tryon Equestrian Centre was the base for the competition. The running, shooting and riding phases of the competition were held here. The national championships were the last competition to be held in Tryon Equestrian Centre before it hosted the World Equestrian Games of 2018. The facility was next to none. It catered for our every need and much more. An opening ceremony marked the beginning of the competition. Over the course of the weekend we had ups and downs, triumphs and tears. However, we came out on top with smiles all around. The boys placing first was perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments of the trip. Especially because it involved a certain someone having to shave their head (Floody). We were happy knowing that we were going home after doing our country proud. Even though we place a great deal of emphasis on the competition phase of the exchange, it is perhaps the memories and friends that we made that will stick with us for longer than the rosettes. The exchange is as good as you make it. I’m glad to say that we not only made memories and had fun with each other, but also with the other teams. The teams all gelled particularly well this exchange, which made it all the more difficult to say goodbye after the three weeks.

After the final competition we celebrated in style, as pony club people have a habit in doing! We had an early rise the next morning, some of us were brighter and more bushy tailed than others. After thirty hours of travel, complications and mini heart attacks, some of us made it home. Alex and Louise were eager to stay for a couple more days and see the windy city.

To conclude, it is necessary to say that the success of this trip was down to a number of people. Without our kind and generous sponsors, we would not have looked as smart and represented our country as well as we did. I’d like to thank all the volunteers of the USPC who dedicated their time. To our parents, who chauffeured us around the country, funded and supported us through thick and thin. To the various pony clubs and their committees involved for organising this event and producing such excellent athletes and genuine people. Lastly, what we achieved on this trip is due in no small part to John and Louise. There are no words to describe the efforts that they went to preparing for the trip. We are extremely gracious that they gave us three weeks of their time and I hope that they enjoyed it just as much as we did.

 Aoife Duggan McSweeney

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