Hundreds of aspiring athletes turn out for open day fostering Paralympic sport
LONDON 2012 set out to “inspire a generation” and its legacy was apparent in the hundreds of aspiring athletes who turned out on Saturday for an open day to promote Paralympic sports.
Some 400 potential competitors and their families attended the event at University College Dublin’s sports centre.
The timing of the gathering was designed to capitalise on the unprecedented successes of the London Paralympic Games and the Irish team, which won 16 medals, including eight golds. It has given Paralympic sports a hitherto unimaginable profile.
The event attracted three of Ireland’s gold medal winners: Mark Rohan, who won double Olympic gold in handcycling; Michael McKillop who won double in 800 metres and 1,500 metres on the running track; and swimmer Darragh McDonald.
Rohan was stopped everywhere he went for autographs and allowed his gold medals to be passed out among those who attended a question and answer session with him.
“For anybody to come here and see what is happening, seeing kids of all abilities trying out sports, I get great enjoyment from that,” he said.
Bernard Mulvaney brought his two-year-old daughter Sophia, who uses a wheelchair as a result of spina bifida and hydrocephalus.
“It is great for the parents that we can see the achievements of other Paralympians. The Paralympics was the best thing that ever happened disabled people. People no longer see the wheelchair, they see Sophia,” he said.
The open day also involved demonstrations of Paralympic sports, including wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby and boccia.
Stan Geoghegan (15), from Kilbride, Co Wicklow, said he was inspired by the example of Michael McKillop, who won double gold in the T37 cerebral palsy class in the Paralympics.
Stan too has cerebral palsy with a left-sided hemiplegia – similar to McKillop’s condition – meaning that the left side of his body is weaker than the right side.
It has not stopped the teenager from playing rugby or athletics and he came to the open day with a view to taking up cycling.
“I was very inspired by what people could do with a disability. Michael was very brave to do what he did.”
The purpose of the open day was to scout for talent for the Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and subsequent games, but also to attract new recruits to Paralympic sports.
Paralympics Ireland chief executive Liam Harbison said: “Our hope from the day is that people with a disability with an interest in sport might be inspired to develop their own athletic ability.”