Commandant Jayne Lawlor is a senior officer in the Irish Defence Forces, and she's also a veteran of Vhi Women's Mini Marathon. She's taking part again this year, and offers some inspiring advice for all participants .
Back in 1997, when Commandant Jayne Lawlor started her career in the Army, she was one of three women in her cadet class. “The very first women who joined the Defence Forces came in during different times and possibly with different expectations,” she explains, when asked how far women have come in the Defence Forces. “My generation came in knowing that we would have equality of opportunity that's what we signed up for.
“I'm a female squadron commander; the squadron commander in Cork has just started and is another female — so now we'll have two out of three squadrons have female officers. The Defence Forces has recently promted the first female officer to the rank of Colonel, Colonel Maureen O’Brien. We've got women who are bomb disposal experts, on the front line of Peace Support Operations overseas and on the Naval Ships in the Mediterranean... there's no role in the Defence Forces that's not open to women.”
Comdt Lawlor is the Commanding Officer of Two Brigade Cavalry Squadron which has been working steadily in recent weeks. “Our cavalry squadron is a bit unusual in that we do all the Presidential escorts of honour. As you can imagine, we've been very busy at the moment with the Easter 1916 commemoration.” Her other duties see her in charge of discipline, making sure those in her unit meet all their operational capabilities, and in planning all the training on a yearly basis. “They say a commanding officer is responsible for everything the soldiers do and fail to do — so that's a pretty wide catch-all!”
The mum of four has served in Lebanon, Liberia, Kosovo and Afghanistan and advocates for women to consider the Defence Forces as a career option — and she's also a longtime fan of the Vhi Women's Mini Marathon. “When we were in cadet school, we weren't allowed outside bounds, which was a ten mile radius of the school, so we were really confined for 21 months. The Mini Marathon was coming up back in 1998, and we three girls put in a request to be allowed go and run the Mini Marathon as part of our physical training regime, and we were granted permission! The three of us headed up to Dublin, it was a phenomenal day, and that started my love affair with the event.”
She finished in 45 minutes — “That'd be good for me, I don't think I've run it that fast since!” — and has participated several times in the intervening years. “We ran it two years ago and the girls in the Curragh in the Defence Forces Training Centre organised a block and I got asked to run with them as well. We had 20 women running in block, in step, and that's what we're hoping to replicate this year.
“We're not going to run to speed, we're targeting around an hour. Our plan is to start together and finish together. We've got some other girls who mightn't want to be part of the block, but who are interested in walking it or jogging it, a few girls who are coming back from injury, so we should have 25 in total.”
If we were to ask for advice from anyone, it would be Comdt Lawlor, who has turned her childhood devotion to sport into a physically demanding career, one that challenged her from the start. When asked if she had words of wisdom for anyone who is thinking about taking part in the Vhi Women's Marathon, but may feel overwhelmed, she doesn't hesitate for a moment.“It sounds so simple, but: one step at a time. Although I've played sports, I was a real team sports person and I never really ran until I joined the Cadet School, and I struggled, I was always under pressure running. I remember one day, one of my Training NCOs came up beside me and said, 'Just keep going, just one foot in front of the other.' That was the best advice I ever got: to not think about it too much, to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and keep yourself going.”