Nina admits her world was turned upside down as she became the darling of a nation in Dancing With The Stars.
For those who followed her story as the trailblazing jockey, she will always be remembered for her memorable wins at the Cheltenham Festival and her success in helping to break the glass ceiling for female jockeys in a male-dominated world.
Yet Nina admits she is recognised just as much now for her initially stumbling and eventually flowing steps as she won RTÉ’s Dancing with the Stars back in March, as she stormed to victory in a manner that ensured she generated a whole new audience of admirers.
As she sat down with the Sunday World for an exclusive interview to promote her support for Vhi’s More Than Running campaign that is encouraging families to sign up park runs to get active, Nina admitted her world was turned upside down as she became the darling of a nation gripped by her Cha-cha-chas, Viennese Waltzes and Paso Dobles.
“When the offer came in to do the show, I just thought I’d have a go,” begins Nina.
“I knew I wasn’t a great dancer, but I wanted to get out there and challenge myself. Madly, I decided to take this on.
“At the start of it, I was wondering what I was doing, but it worked out well in the end. I didn’t expect to be there until the end, but it was a roller coaster of a ride and it was an incredible show to be a part of.
“The show gets the nation watching. That Sunday evening slot when people are not doing too much, it’s perfect to sit down with the family and watch TV and if I put a smile on people’s faces, possibly because my dancing was terrible to start with, then that’s great.
“I had to admit, I was scared going on every night and the amount of times I wanted to stop I can’t tell you. My husband kept telling me there were all these people who wanted me to win and I was thinking, ‘Oh My God, how am I going to keep going?’”
We may have lapped up performances that saw Nina win the show alongside her professional dance partner Pasquale La Rocca, but she has revealed she was riddled with self-doubt for much of her journey on the show. She admits she had several moments during her run on the show where she hoped the public would end her story, but the will to win and a quiet word from her husband Ted kept her going.
“There were so many weekends when I thought I would be out in this round and suddenly I was through again,” she reflects.
“Clearly someone out there enjoyed my dancing and I just kept my head down and somehow got to the end and got enough support from the public to win. I’m very grateful for that.
“Now I’m finding a lot of people don’t know we as a jockey anymore and come up to me as the dancer off the TV!
“That takes time to get your head around because it was a four-month show and it has changed my life in so many ways. I’m very grateful for what it did for me and I love my time on it, so I’m not complaining at all.”
After a ground-breaking career as a jockey, Nina admits retirement was hard to accept when he rode her last race in the final day of the Punchestown Festival in 2018.
Like so many elite sports stars, the void in their life when their sporting heroics end is hard to fill and Nina admits she fell into that trap.
“The thrill of riding and winning was gone and that was hard to deal with to start with,” she reflects.
“It is something that’s hard to get your head around. Even two or three years later, you are starting to feel it. Something is missing in your life.
“That’s when the dancing show came along and it did give me some of that adrenaline rush that I missed from racing.
“Walking on that dance floor was just incredible and that will to win came back for me. It gave me some fire in my belly once again and I loved that side of it.”
After her dancing success, offers to appear on more reality TV shows offers are bound to flow for Nina, who insists she won’t be appearing on I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! as she has no intention of eating bugs for our viewing pleasure.
Instead, she has set her sights on using her celebrity status in a positive way, as she encourages families to get active with the Vhi’s More Than Running campaign.
“This project fits really well with me,” added the 37-year-old who is also appearing on RTÉ’s hit entertainment Ireland’s Fittest Family.
“We want to encourage people of all ages to get out and about, get motivated and get moving. .
“Meeting new people is fun and if you can get some fitness at the same time, that has to be a good thing.
“The same is true with Ireland’s Fittest Family, so if I can use my influence in a positive way moving forward and still have a big interest in the racing world, then it will keep me out of trouble.”
The Vhi ambassadors are calling on people to attend a parkruns this summer. To register for a parkrun near you visit parkrun.ie.