'I look to the positives rather than the ifs or the buts'


MY HEALTH EXPERIENCE:I’ve often thought what it would be like to have two arms, says CATHAL MILLER

I WAS born without a right arm below my elbow. I can only speculate why, but my father, Charles Miller, who is originally from the Bronx, was an American soldier in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966 and he was exposed to Agent Orange.

There are numerous cases of the children of Vietnam veterans being born with disabilities.

One-armed people are not that common in Ireland, but the world is full of them. When I walked into the athletes’ village in Beijing in 2008 there must have been 1,000-1,500 arm amputees. I was in awe of that fact. I am part of an independent race of human beings.

I’m originally from Clontarf. I was very lucky growing up. I was in the sea scouts down on Bull Island. I discovered I had an ability to play rugby. For me to get to where I was on the team, I had to be fitter than everybody else. I would run five or six miles every evening and do extra weight sessions just to make up for my disability. I just adapted to it.

I was lucky in that I had good hand eye co-ordination. My ball-handling skills with one arm were quite good.

I played rugby in primary schools and then I went to school in St Paul’s in Raheny where I played in a Senior Cup semi-final at Lansdowne Road in 1986.

Simultaneously I played with Clontarf under-18s in rugby and got junior player of the year in 1989. I had a couple of run-outs with the senior team too.

I went from Clontarf to another club to play open side wing forward and I was quite good at that. I had a good arm and a half. I really enjoyed it.

I’m lucky that my mother is a qualified physiotherapist so from the age of three or four I was doing exercises. I started canoeing when I was eight or nine in the sea scouts and that developed me on both sides simultaneously.

I have got an artificial arm and I use a split hook. Some people have an artificial arm for aesthetic purposes, but in my opinion you are better off having something that works rather than something that looks good.

I would be in the school of “suck it up, who cares what other people think. So what if people stare. They’ll get over it.”

Using the hook, I can repair my bike, I can play with my children, I can carry the shopping and drive the car. For me, practicality is much more important than aesthetics.

I always cycled my bike and a friend of mine, Michael Delaney, who is another Paralympian, approached me and asked me if I would pedal a tandem with him for a National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) sports event in 2005.

We were third. One of the teams we beat had been at the Paralympics games in Athens the year before.

Between us we purchased a tandem and we ended up doing the Tour of Belgium on a tandem which would have been in May or June in 2006.

Between us we had three arms, four eyes and three and a half ears (Mick is partially deaf) and we came in the top 30 among the best tandem riders in the world. We were chuffed with that.

It became apparent that Mick was very good in the back, but my skills at the front were not quite as good. I was okay on the straight, but it was difficult to corner when I could use only one brake so Mick got a new partner.

I was approached by the Paralympics squad and asked would I race a solo bike so I agreed.

I did the European Championships in 2006. It was not an auspicious start, but I joined a cycling club called Obelisk and I met three guys, Mark McCabe, Ger Madden and Robert Kehoe, who started training me and in 2007 I went to the Paracycling World Championships in Switzerland. I got three top 10 finishes.

I represented Ireland in the Paralympics in Beijing in 2008. The whole experience was fantastic although I had bad luck in the road race.

I was fifth in the pursuit and missed the ride-off for medals by three or four seconds. I was ninth in the time trial, seventh in the kilo (one kilometre race) and crashed out of the road race.

I was asked by my coach if I would do it again and I immediately said yes.

It was an incredible experience.

In 2010 I got the medal ride-off in pursuit of the World Championship.

In the last two world championships I’ve missed the ride-off by a second. It is about time I had a little bit of luck.

The entire Paralympian squad voted for who would carry the flag and luckily they chose me.

I’m under pressure because I’m carrying the flag for the Irish team. How am I going to emulate Katie Taylor? Somebody said to me that I can’t let a girl beat me.

I am married to Anne and I have a seven year old, Aaron, and a 12 year old, Saoirse. They are going to see me in the velodrome on September 1st and 2nd and they might see why I couldn’t take them swimming or cycling on a Saturday morning for the last while.

I’m looking forward to London and I’m looking forward to having my family there.

I’ve often thought what it would be like to have two arms. Sometimes it gets frustrating. There were times in rugby when there was a try scoring pass on that I dropped the ball and I would say, “if I had two arms I would have scored it”, but I am what I am.

I work for the Revenue Commissioners and have received fantastic support from my work colleagues. I’m very lucky. I’ve had a very lucky life. I have great family, great support and great friends. From that perspective I look to the positives.

Lots of people have wished me well. I look to the positives rather than the ifs or the buts.

I think we are going to do better than in Beijing when we won five medals. We have competitors like Jason Smyth, the double Paralympics champion, Mike McKillip, Catherine Walsh and James Scully who are all fantastic athletes and who train very hard.

A lot of people look at the Paralympics and say, “aren’t they fantastic for what they can do” and rightly so, but people do not appreciate that there are a lot of things they can’t do, but they compensate for them in other ways. In doing so, it makes them even more superhuman.

The Paralympics Opening Ceremony is tomorrow night.

In conversation with RONAN McGREEVY