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Me & My Health: Ulster Wildlife nature reserves officer Deborah McLaughlin


Nature lover: Deborah McLaughlin works with Ulster Wildlife
Nature lover: Deborah McLaughlin works with Ulster Wildlife
Deborah cycling in Majorca

The 44-year-old is a Nature Reserves Officer with UIster Wildlife and lives in west Belfast. Deborah works outdoors in all weather to help protect and care for local wildlife and wild places. She is also a keen runner, cyclist and hiker, and has recently become hooked on triathlons.

Do you take regular exercise and if so, what?

I have always been very active. I played badminton when I was younger and then moved on to hiking, running and road cycling as I got older.

However, in January of this year, I decided to take up a new challenge and signed up to a 12-week Try-a-Tri programme with the Olympian Triathlon Club. This was a real challenge as I could barely swim a length, but I have since completed four sprint-distance triathlons, with one of them in open water in Castlewellan lake.

The Try-a-Tri programme was a great introduction to triathlon and thanks to the amazing coaches and the people I've met, I'm now completely hooked! I recently signed up as a member of the Olympian Triathlon Club and I train with the club several times a week. I also attend a Pilates class once a week and over the autumn and winter months, I intend to start training for the Belfast Marathon in May.

My job as Nature Reserves Officer with Ulster Wildlife is also very physical. I work outdoors four days a week, in all weather conditions, undertaking practical conservation activities on our suite of 18 nature reserves, using a range of tools and machinery. On top of that, I also try to commute to work by bike when possible.

What's the worst illness you have had?

I have memories of being really sick and feeling sorry for myself as a child when I had chickenpox and mumps, but I've had nothing other than colds and flu as an adult.

How healthy is your diet?

I have been vegan for almost two years now and I would say that I have a very balanced and healthy diet and that I'm aware of my nutritional requirements. This is really important, particularly with the level of training and type of work that I do. I did have an allotment a couple of years ago and was growing some of my own vegetables but it was hard to find the time to keep on top of it. I do try to buy locally grown produce though and support my local family-run greengrocers.

Any bad habits?

I have a bit of a sweet tooth and can't give up sugar in my coffee and dunking a few biscuits!

Do you drink and/or smoke - if so, how much?

I have always enjoyed going out and socialising at the weekends but those nights are few and far between now because of the triathlon training and because I can't handle the hangovers anymore! I do like to go out on a Sunday afternoon though for a couple of pints to catch up with friends and family and listen to some live music.

Do you take any health supplements?

I think that if you have a healthy, balanced diet then there is no need to take supplements. However, since I began increasing my training for the triathlons, I started taking (pea) protein powder, so that I can make my own protein shakes to take after a late training session to help with muscle repair.

How do you take time out?

I usually take time out when walking my dog, or I'll try to get out for a coffee or lunch with friends or family, or sometimes I'll just curl up with a good book.

How well do you sleep?

Deborah cycling in Majorca
Deborah cycling in Majorca

I'm usually exhausted after work and training, so I generally sleep very well and I definitely need a good eight hours of sleep per night.

Do you worry about getting old?

No, not really. Hopefully, I stay fit and healthy for a long time to come and have lots of time to keep trying out new things.

What is your go-to product/habit that keeps you feeling healthy?

I've always enjoyed running and using my own two feet to take me places and to keep me healthy, both physically and mentally. The hardest part of any exercise is always getting out the front door but once you are out there, you enjoy it and you feel great afterwards.

  • As Ulster Wildlife celebrates 40 years of protecting local wildlife, the charity is encouraging everyone who loves wildlife to become a member and join thousands of others helping nature thrive. Find out more at

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