Rohan makes molehills out of mountains
PARALYMPIC GAMES:THEY DO a very odd thing for the Paralympic medal ceremonies at Brands Hatch. Of all the spots in all of Kent into which they could have stuck three flagpoles, they chose a sidehill at the top of a lengthy ramp.
Presumably, the thinking is that the spot itself is easily seen from the main stand and maybe it is. Still, it seems like cruel and unusual punishment to lay upon wheelchair-bound men who’ve just spent close on two hours handcycling 48 kilometres in 26-degree heat. We’d all have happily lived with a restricted view if it meant they didn’t have to leave any more of themselves out on the road.
That said, Mark Rohan would likely have hauled himself up there on a grappling hook if he’d had to. His second Paralympic gold medal of the week had a brutal beauty to it, a tightly-controlled road race around six laps of hill and dell and hill again.
Never far from the front, he squeezed the pace along in the fifth lap to chop the leading group from five down to two – himself and 22-year-old Swiss rider Tobias Fankhauser – before kicking (punching?) for home and taking the sprint finish.
Double world champion, double Paralympic champion. Life gave him lemons, he squeezed them of every drop.
“I suppose when something happens to you, you always have to look at the positives,” he said afterwards.
“I enjoy playing sport. Sport with a disability is the same as sport without a disability. You get the same emotions, the same support, the same ups and downs. If I wasn’t here, I would have loved to have been lifting the Sam Maguire for Westmeath. I had big ambitions. I honestly mean that. Whatever I put my hand to, I give it 100 per cent and lucky enough I have come out the right side of it these last couple of years.
“That was tough today. It was very hot out there. Even warming-up you could tell that it was going to be a long, long day. Even though it is all about power-to-weight, I carried three litres of water just in case and the guys doused me each lap. I was just delighted to be able to get to the four-and-a-half lap stage of the six and be able to execute that last bit.
“We watched the video in training and Brian , my coach, had predicted what was going to happen and we really buried ourselves in training. When we got to that four-and-a-half lap stage I knew we were going to execute the plan.”
Simple as that, really. Go out, settle, execute, win. Except nothing’s that simple. Not when everything you were just got dissolved one day, a reset button hit on a life in the screech of a skidding motorbike.
The darkness of the alleys your mind wanders down in the aftermath of something like that can’t ever suggest this kind of light, not unless you’re made of different stuff. Rohan says his accident has given him a wonderful life. Imagine how big a man you have to be to think like that.
“When you see the flag go up, I don’t know, you just think how proud you are to be Irish. To see that flag on top of the rest of them, you know, is a real special moment, it doesn’t happen that often. It could be a long time before it happens again – hopefully not – but I’m just trying to take it in. The last 10 years have been a struggle and it was nice to top it off, to be able to celebrate something now.”
He has it in mind to take a break from the sport for a while now. There are no ranking points available for Rio in the next 18 months so he figures he’ll spend most of that time in college in the US, building Lego brick upon Lego brick in a quest to know more about sport.
He’s already done a sports management degree in UCD, sports development is up next. Everything placed under a microscope, every atom examined. But first, he knows he will have some poster-boy duties to attend to.
“I wish things weren’t going to be different, I wish they would stay the same. But I have a responsibility to promote disability sport. It is a minority sport. Once every four years we get a shop window to promote it.
“I got an email from a young guy called Tiernan O’Sullivan who I met in hospital where we were promoting handcycling in Cork a few months ago. To see those kids cycling a bike with their disability, it’s amazing. I took great inspiration from his email and, to know the joy they have, the next generation looking at us was great.
“I’ll embrace the high profile for the next couple of months, but I won’t use if for my own ends – I’ll use it to promote the sport. I am a shy lad who loves to do his own thing, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Shy? Could have fooled us. Shy waits. Shy hopes. Shy lets the world happen to shy. Rohan has done the exact opposite to get where he was yesterday. Indeed, maybe the sidehill was entirely appropriate for the medal ceremony after all.
A man who fights gravity every day would expect nothing less.