If you want it……Work for it! This is the philosophy at Focus on Fitness and is one of many profound pieces of advice Martin Kirwan has passed onto me. I still remember the journey home from Blarney after winning our first Invacare Paracycling Time Trial in June 2013.
This was my first race with Martin and our second time out on the tandem together. Martin said he was coming on board to make me the best; I think everyone can agree he has been true to his word and has done a pretty good job. He left me under no illusions of how hard the journey would be, he said that it’s not going to be easy and that I would have to want it more than anything. There are plenty of people I have to Thank, who have all played a vital role with helping me qualify for the Rio 2016 Paralympics Games, but I don’t think anyone will begrudge me when I say that I would not have got there without the distinguished Martin Kirwan.
In 2010 I was looking forward to taking part in the Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford. I met up with Dermot Blount from the Comeragh Cycling Club. On our first spin together Dermot asked me what I thought of the 2009 Sean Kelly Tour. I told him that I enjoyed the 50 km cycle but I thought it wasn’t long enough for me. Dermot asked me if I wanted to do the 90 km spin this year and when I said yes he said no problem we will train for it and do it.
When we finished the 90 km Dermot said I’ll do the 160 km route with you next year. This was so refreshing for me to hear. When you have a vision impairment, I think some people focus on what you can’t do. This was not true of Dermot, he focused on my ability and not my disability. When Dermot pitched the idea of me trying to qualify for Rio, he said that he saw great potential in me which again for a person with a vision impairment was very flattering to hear.
When Martin was asked to work with me in 2013 we had a simple goal which was to qualify for the Paralympics. Martin knew it wouldn’t happen overnight and when I used to travel home from races disappointed with not winning Martin would say to me that the winners were at it years, that I was progressing quickly and getting stronger each year. I believe that Martin also didn’t focus on what I couldn’t do. Martin saw me as an athlete who needed support so he focused his training around what I could do and never worried about what I couldn’t do. Martin’s professionalism was clear to see and after our first European Cup Event in Prague in 2014 his analysis of my training and racing performances throughout the year was inspiring. Martin spoke to me as an athlete, not as an athlete with a vision impairment.
When it came to the stage when Martin knew that another pilot would be required to get me to the Paralympics I found it very difficult and wondered how I could replace him. Martin was the heart and soul of everything I did and I didn’t feel right about not having him on the front of the bike with me. Martin’s professionalism again shone through when he said that it wasn’t about him that it was about me getting the best for myself. I was blessed that when Martin stepped down from piloting the bike he stayed on as my coach and manager. Martin was communicating and working with Paracycling Ireland on my behalf and was also there helping with the maintenance and upkeep of the tandem . This was crucial to my continued success as all I had to do was concentrate on training and racing.
Since September 2012 my goal has been to qualify for Rio. I had no idea of how I was going to get there or what it would take to qualify for the games. I’ve lost 4 stone in weight and train 6 days a week. As the Games got closer training intensified and I was often training twice a day. I’ve had to make sacrifices and it’s been hard missing family events and occasions. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster as for a while it felt that every time we got a result something emerged to knock us back again. When we got news I had qualified it was a bitter sweet moment. It was an amazing sensation realising all the sweat blood and tears had been worth it.
I can say forever that I am a Paralympian and it was such an honour to wear the Irish jersey and do my best in every race I participated in. It was an amazing experience being in the Paralympic Village. There was a great buzz and great interaction between the athletes as we swapped pins with other countries. The food hall seemed as big as a football stadium with every kind of food you could think of. It was great having a card for the vending machines in our apartment building so we never were without bottled water. The sound of the drums at the welcoming ceremony was incredible, and I never tired of hearing it as we passed the plaza. I was disappointed that I couldn’t go to the opening ceremony as we were racing the next day. We got to go to the closing ceremony and the atmosphere was wonderful. It’s still only sinking in what a huge achievement it was to take part in the Paralympic Games.
I’m home about 2 weeks now and the media attention is starting to die down but people are still congratulating me as I meet them. Today as I went into my local butcher’s I was greeted with, Mr Vereker welcome home. My uncle told me that I have no idea of the excitement that was in the village of Kilmacow, the day of my races and when I went home everyone was saying thank you for giving them an amazing 2 weeks. The local radio stations and newspapers in Waterford were covering my progress and my wife Jenny, told me that everyone on Facebook were telling her to pass on their good wishes to me. Jenny couldn’t sleep the night before each race as her nerves were at her and when the races were on she didn’t know what to do with herself out of worry.
WE got through each race with fantastic results and I know what I have to do if I am going to qualify for Tokyo 2020 and bring home the gold!