Last year the country came to a standstill when the Irish women’s hockey team were the surprise runners up at the Women’s Hockey World Cup in London. After a magnificent tournament and an incredibly exciting homecoming the ladies are now preparing for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Nicci Daly is not only an outstanding player on that hockey team; she is also a Mechanical Engineer who has worked hard to pave her way in another sport- motor racing.
She tells us about her passion for both sports and explains how a love of racing eventually led to a career in it. But more importantly, she explains the difficult path to becoming an engineer and how she almost quit several times, because of the challenges she faced.
“In school, I was told to stay away from STEM and when I went for my appointment with the career’s guidance teacher there was a big X on the sheet next to engineering, so I never picked a Science subject for Leaving Cert,” she says.
However chance intervened, due to a problem with her CAO form- the number did not match her name- and she was left with only a couple of options to choose from. One of those was Engineering in IT Tallaght.
“I didn’t have a lot of confidence as a younger person and if the teacher said not to choose a subject, I accepted it. Engineering was pretty much a 40 hour week for 5 years and I absolutely loved it,” she says, happy to have been able to prove her old teacher wrong.
Her love of motorsport came from her Dad, Vivion Daly, who was a prolific name in Irish Motorsport throughout the 80s and 90s and he was crowned Irish champion on multiple occasions. He sadly passed away 16 years ago. Her uncle Derek Daly competed, most notably for the Williams Formula One team. He also raced Indycars and Sportscars.
“I grew up helping my Dad with his racing car and being hands on but I didn’t put it together at the time (that it was engineering) and it was only when I started to excel in education that I figured out what I had an interest in,” she says.
While her college course was very male dominated, she says she always fitted in well with the boys in her class. It wasn’t until she began her Masters in Cranfield University in the UK that things changed somewhat and she had to find an inner strength that she didn’t know was there in order to complete it.
“In undergrad it was fine, we were all there to learn and were at the same level but when I did the Masters in Motorsport Engineering, I was the only girl in the class. That was very daunting. People were coming in with Automotive Degrees or experience working in the field and that was difficult. I was a total newbie to motorsport. That was one of the hardest times in my life but it did something for me in that it was an uncomfortable position to overcome. At one point I wanted to quit but there was something in me. I saw myself working in the pit lane and I didn’t want to let go of that.”
She says she pushed through feelings of discomfort to achieve her dream of working in motorsport and she now wants to encourage other young women to do the same.
“I didn’t have a lot of confidence as a person, or as a hockey player, and I had to work extremely hard on developing the mental side of my game to try to unlock my true potential. I was limiting myself with my mind. My uncle raced Formula One and he is now a motivational speaker. He helped me a lot in trying to unlock my potential through how I was thinking and how I was sabotaging my own career through negative thoughts. It’s about using visualisation and imagery, you picture yourself doing something well and repeat that over and over again. What the mind perceives, the body achieves,” she says.
Through the use of visualisation, she has been able to excel on and off the pitch and for the last two years has worked as a Data Engineer with Juncos Racing in Indianapolis.
“I was going on 4 to 6 month stints as I was coming back for the hockey- when the programme was heavy loaded I’d be based back in Ireland. I’m back in Ireland now for the Olympic qualifier campaign and that’s why I’ve focussed my attention on developing Formula Female while I’m here,” she says.
She set up Formula Female, a women’s racing team, last August with the launch in aid of the Irish Cancer Society- in memory of her Dad.
This year Formula Female is supporting and sponsoring two drivers who are ambassadors for the team; Holly Dunnion is a 10 year old go Kart driver and Nicole Drought is Ireland’s top female racing driver. Formula Female aims to use the visibility of role models such as Holly, Nicole and Nicci to engage, educate and empower girls and women.
“Since then I have developed another initiative to get more girls interested in working in motorsport and in STEM,” she says.
While it is still in the early stages and top secret at the moment, she says at age 16 most teens pick their Leaving Cert subjects and she wants to introduce to that age group the role of STEM subjects within motorsport.
“There are many career opportunities available to girls in motorsport, you don’t have to be a racing driver, you can be an engineer, a mechanic, or a data engineer. A lot of it comes down to picking STEM subjects, so I want to educate them around those roles available and encourage them to take up STEM,” she says.
“The environment is thrilling and it’s a very exciting job. There are always new challenges, and I want to spread that message,” she adds.
There are only three sports in the world that men and women can compete in at the same level and motor sport is one (horse racing and ocean racing are the other two). There is no female competing at Formula One level just yet but Daly hopes to change that with Formula Female. “There are women who compete in Indycar; Danica Patrick is well known for winning an Indy car race in 2008 but not yet in F1,” she says.
While there is still a way to go for women in motor sport, they are certainly top of their game when it comes to hockey and Daly says the Irish team is working very hard to excel at the Olympics. She currently trains with her club twice a week, the Irish team once a week and does weekend camps every two to three weeks.
Daly says she understands that with all of this comes the job of role model too.
“Doing what I did in the world cup and what I’ve done in motorsport to date, I’m in a positon to pass on the baton and the information that’s needed to the next generation and I accept that responsibility.
“I would say to young girls and women, don’t compare yourself to whoever is sitting beside you, just be the best you can be and if you want it bad enough it will be worth it in the end. There will be times when things are uncomfortable but the more you can get comfortable with being uncomfortable, the more you grow and the better you get. My best is my best and that’s all I can give,” she says.