When Jack Raftery tore his hamstring in two places at the Intervarsity Indoors in Athlone back in January, it appeared that his dreams of competing on the Irish mixed 4x400m relay team at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon had been dashed.
The serious injury was coupled with a subsequent positive Covid test which meant the opportunity to assess the full scale of the damage via a scan was delayed.
It was the end of April before the third year engineering student could finally get back to full training but with less than three months to go until worlds, Raftery was in a race against time.
“I done a lot of work on the bike, slow work on the track and some pretty dark days in the gym in the basement in DCU,” he says of the rehab process.
Miraculously by mid-May Raftery was back in action. He blitzed the field by over a second to take victory in the Men’s 400m at the Irish Milers Club clocking a new personal best of 46.44s in doing so.
The success would continue in Belgium just two weeks later when the Donore athlete moved into the top ten Irish athletes for the event all-time, clocking 46.17s.
He had done the unthinkable. From hoping to have “some form” of a season, he was rewarded for his performances with a place on the plane to Eugene.
The Irish team have had good success recently in the new mixed relay event and having made finals of both the World Relay Championships in Poland and Olympics in Tokyo in 2021, the expectation was to make the final once again.
Ireland’s heat performance was superb as they finished second in their heat to meet their pre-championship aspiration. Raftery was running on the third leg and took the baton from DCU Alumni, Sophie Becker.
Competing in his first global senior championships he looked relaxed and comfortable in his surroundings clocking the fastest third leg by any athlete in the heats, 45.38s.
The job was not done however, as the Irish team only had a few hours left to prepare for the final.
“After we’d qualified through the heat and gone through the media area, as we were coming back out my mam and dad could see me over the balcony, and they were waving down,” he recalls.
“I was like ‘look, grand, we’ve another job to do’, we were literally back in the physio tent, getting ready to go again.”
The exploits of the Irish team in the heat may have cost them in the final, as they finished eighth but nonetheless, they were immensely proud to make it.
“I still don’t think I’d be able to put it [the experience] into words, it only hit me the night before we were coming back how big it was.
“I didn’t really take in the final as much as I would’ve wanted but it was incredible.
“The amount of athletes you get to see out there that you grew up watching, like talking to Wayne Van Niekerk in the elevator, he’s the reason why I started running the 400m.”
“Being able to run on a massively fast track in front of 20,000 fans was huge.”
Raftery received massive support from home as he was flooded with a deluge of messages.
“It took me about five or six days to go through everything,” he tells me.
“There was incredible support from home, all the texts that were coming in.”
“Texts from people I’d know from years back, people big in the media, getting a text off David Gillick was massive, it was crazy.”
The appearance at the World Championships was the culmination of years of hard work for the 21-year-old that began around ten years ago competing at a Primary School Cross Country event, which he won.
Having concentrated on the 800m and 1500m for a number of years he then decided it was time to move down after running an impressive 400m during his schools athletics days.
“I think I must have been about 17 when I won my first individual All-Ireland medal and that was in the 400m, a week after coming fourth in the 800m.”
“The year after that I decided to stick with 400m.”
Jack Raftery – Why DCU?
Raftery is now back into winter training as well as being back in college. His decision to come to DCU back in 2020 was an easy one and it appears he has no regrets.
“I’ve grown up around DCU, my dad’s (Declan Raftery COO) worked here the whole time.”
“I used to come here when I was a kid.”
“On the last day before Christmas, I used to come in and get dinner with him.”
“The athletics facilities that DCU have in place and the community that exists around the sport here make it great.”
Jack Raftery – Future Goals
While focusing on his studies, Raftery also has a number of targets in mind for 2023.
“My big goal is try to qualify for World Championships individually in the 400m,” he admits.
“The automatic qualifying time is something ridiculous, so it would be on points.”
“If I run a good few races under 46s, I should get there.”
“Outside of that, the European U23s are on in Helsinki and I’m sixth ranked of those lads to return so I’m in with a chance of doing well.”
“The U23 National 400m record has also stood just shy of forty years, it’s 45.73s, and I think I can have a good go at that.”
There is one goal however that dominates his focus larger than all.
“I haven’t thought about anything past Paris 2024.”
If Jack Raftery can continue the upward trajectory that he has been on, the chances that we will be seeing him in action on the biggest stage of them all at the Olympics in Paris in less than two years are certainly very much alive.
Image Credit: Mark Smyth