‘Physical and personal challenges have taught me how precious life is’ - Irish athlete Hannah Shields

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Hannah Shields, the first woman from Northern Ireland to conquer Mount Everest and ski to the magnetic North Pole

Hannah Shields, the first woman from Northern Ireland to conquer Mount Everest
Hannah Shields, the first woman from Northern Ireland to conquer Mount Everest
1. Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I am an early riser - mornings are my favourite time of the day. I love getting up, especially in the summer, and exercising and enjoying nature as it’s wakening up, too. At the moment, I’m usually at the brilliant Foyle arena in Derry where I get in a swim and climbing wall session, before moving on to a yoga or Pilates class. Next stop: coffee.

2. What might you eat in a typical working day for….

Breakfast? I need a decent breakfast, as it sets me up for the day, so usually it will be porridge and two eggs.

Lunch? A good sandwich and two or three pieces of fruit.

Evening meal? My evening meal will be protein-based and consist of chicken, fish or pulses with plenty of vegetables. I do a lot of freshly made batch cooking, so that I know when I am hungry I always have good food ready to eat and there’s less chance of me eating quick, processed food.

3. Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

My nutrition is important for me. What I eat has a direct effect on how my body functions, so I have a well-balanced food regime - but with treats included. I believe in everything in moderation. Even though I have a good diet , I still take supplements. Since I was a child, I have taken cod liver oil tablets and because I do a lot of activities, I take vitamin D, multivitamins and glucosamine for my joints and muscles.

4. Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

When I was in my 20s I tried to diet by counting and reducing calories, but I quickly realised it didn’t work for me. I was better at just eating a balanced diet and taking plenty of exercise.

5. Weekend treat?

My weekend treat is opening a good bottle of red wine, especially a lovely Barolo or Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

6. How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

I love exercising; it has always been my stress buster. I have also been privileged to represent Northern Ireland and Ireland internationally in a number of sports, so being active is just part of my everyday life.

7. Best tip for everyday fitness?

I think my tip for everyday fitness would be to do something that’s enjoyable and preferably with company, as there’s less chance of backing out of it. Be realistic and don’t try to do too much too soon, otherwise you could injure yourself. For me, the best exercise to start with is just to get outside and walk.

8. Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I absolutely loved sports at school and threw myself wholeheartedly into everything. I wasn’t the most talented, but I certainly was enthusiastic.

9. Teetotal or tipple?

Definitely a tipple.

10. Stairs or lift?


We only get one life, so I really want to embrace and live it to the fullest

11. What book are you currently reading?

I love re-reading books, so presently, I have three books on the go: Ian Fleming’s Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories; Richard Askwith’s The Race Against Time: Adventures in Late-Life Running; and Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Written in History: Letters That Changed The World.

12. Best Netflix/streaming TV?

I am not a big TV fan, but I love watching old DVDs. I did watch the Netflix adaptation of One Day, which I enjoyed.

13. Any new skills or hobbies?

I am currently training with the ‘Row The Erne’ team to learn how to row a handmade currach, as part of an upcoming challenge. We are aiming to row to Rathlin and Skelligs islands, across two of the trickiest stretches of Irish water. It’s a completely new challenge for me and I am really excited about it.

14. How do you relax?

With a walk along any of our beautiful beaches here in the North West. I also adore cooking - with a glass of wine in hand and great music to listen to, I am content.

15. What would you tell your younger self?

I wouldn’t say too much to my younger self, except, ‘You’re doing okay’. All that has happened has made me who I am. Life certainly has not been perfect, but I’m still doing okay.

16. What are your goals for 2024?

My goals are to keep striving to do the best that I can in every task I set myself. I know I may not succeed, but at least I will have tried. We only get one life, so I really want to embrace and live it to the fullest.

17. What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

Bedtime is usually 10.30pm - I need my seven-to-eight hours of sleep every night. I am lucky that I have no trouble sleeping and am really grateful for that.

18. Biggest gripe or regret?

Life is too short for regrets; you can’t change the past, so if something hasn’t gone well, I analyse what I could have done differently, learn from it and move forward.

19. Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

I think you learn and change as you grow older and perspectives do shift, but I still like to push myself out of my comfort zone.

20. Has coronavirus – or any health epiphany or life event – changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

I have had quite a few challenges in my life, both personally and physically. Each one has taught me how precious my life and health are. This is why I have constantly challenged myself, as I really want to make the most of the life I have. By pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I really still have to pinch myself and recognise that it’s me, Hannah, that has accomplished and achieved such amazing things. I am presently training for a Nordic skiing trip to the Swedish Arctic Circle. That involves cross-country skiing and pulling sleighs packed with all our food, clothing and equipment that will help us survive in the extreme environment for a week. I am doing it with an amazing group of ladies from Ireland, age range from mid-30s to 60s.

Hannah Shields will be in conversation with Pamela Ballantine at the first Body Talk Live health conference at the Crowne Plaza, Belfast on April 19.