At the heart of the Paralympics
The Paralympic Games are about to take off, and Irishwoman Daráine Mulvihill is right at the heart of Channel 4’s extensive coverage of the event – although the last thing she expected to find herself doing was taking Oscar Pistorious’s blades for a test run
IT’S BEST TO start with the name because it won’t be the last time you hear it. It’s Daráine Mulvihill – pronounced like Gráinne but with an added syllable at the beginning – and it means daughter of Áine. She used to presume her parents plucked it out of thin air until one day her mother, a teacher who was born and reared in Dingle, Co Kerry, dug out the old book where she first came across it and showed it to her. “English people have no trouble with it,” she laughs. “They just say it out phonetically. But Irish people trip over it all the time.”
You sense they won’t for much longer – Mulvihill’s job for the next fortnight will see to it. Alongside former Olympic gold-medallist triple jumper Jonathan Edwards, Mulvihill will front Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympic Games, from nine in the morning until lunchtime every day. The 29-year-old from Ashbourne, Co Meath is one of the disabled members of Channel 4’s 20-strong presenting team, having had her legs and fingers amputated at the age of 16 after contracting meningitis.
You may already be half-familiar with her story. The daughter of former GAA general secretary Liam Mulvihill, she came close to death in 1999 when struck with the meningococcus C virus. Doctors put her chances of survival at 2 per cent and she was given the last rites. But after a year in the Mater hospital, which included losing her legs and fingers as well as multiple skin grafts and a severe bout of MRSA, she got out and set about making life bend her way again.
Mulvihill returned to school, dropped back a year and nailed her Leaving Cert before going on to study communications in DCU. She won a Person of the Year award in 2001 and Mary McAleese appointed her to the Council of State in 2004. Having worked on children’s TV in RTÉ for five years, she jumped at the chance to apply to Channel 4 to cover the upcoming games. The slight downside to getting the gig is that she has spent more of the past six months than she would have liked walking back along the old road for the benefit of new interviewers.
“I made a conscious effort to get away from that for a while,” she says, “because I was tired of it in a way. I didn’t want to be thought of forever as the girl who had meningitis and that story. Obviously it’s part of who I am. I’m not just a regular person walking down the street. I have a disability and that story is how I got the disability and it’s part of me. I don’t mind talking about it at all but the more I tell it, the more I almost disassociate myself from it because it sounds so dramatic. It’s almost as if it happened to somebody else and I’m only recounting it.”
The upside of being so well-versed in telling the story of her own disability is that Mulvihill isn’t the least bit squeamish or awkward in probing Paralympians about theirs. Channel 4’s incredible promotional campaign for the games has been very up-front about dealing with disability. Each one of the 4,200 or so competitors in London has a back-story and part of her job will be to get them to tell it. Not everybody can do that well.