Irish gold medallist Eve McCrystal had sacrificed a lot by the time she and Paralympic cycling partner Katie-George Dunlevy zipped past the finish line in Tokyo just before 7am Irish time on Tuesday.
She had put her career in An Garda Síochána on hold, stalled her social life, dedicated herself entirely to riding. On the day of Paralympic glory, her brother Bryan noted, her two young daughters were returning to school 9,500km away from the podium.
“I’m delighted they got the gold medal after all the hard work they put in to get there,” he said. “It’s the target they set themselves... reaching it is so fulfilling.”
Bryan would know a thing or two beyond what the nation watched unfold on television. He and Eve were sporting siblings, he perhaps more so than she in the early years when their mother, Frances, drove them around to competitions.
Years later when Bryan was approached to be a pilot on the men’s Paralympic cycling team he told the coach he knew another talented athlete available for the women’s team. Less than a decade later, that passing suggestion culminated in yet another Irish gold.
Many have commented on the successful pairing of McCrystal and Dunlevy, who since 2013 have formed a formidable medal-winning riding synergy. Dunlevy would travel to Ireland from her UK base and stay with her partner while they trained.
“They work together and they have to because it’s a partnership,” said Bryan. “It has to be a human nature thing; sometimes you can be on a tandem and you just don’t get on and it can be difficult, but the girls do get on and they have been together all these years. It comes naturally.”
The McCrystals are Co Louth natives. On Tuesday morning, Frances acted as Bryan's alarm clock as they rose in the early hours to watch the B time trial at Tokyo's Fuji International Speedway. Bryan spoke briefly with his sister via WhatsApp. She is preparing for another event. He says the pair knew they had bagged gold when they caught their British rivals.
It has been a long road for McCrystal, not just in reaching Paralympics glory but even in mastering her sport.
“Eve had children in her late 20s and 30s and she didn’t really start [early],” her brother said. “She had a couple of triathlon events and cycled a bit but she wouldn’t have been doing a whole volume of training. But you could see she did have potential.
“She has a talent but she [also] has a work ethic.”
The siblings have carved out a place for their cycling passion in Co Louth, having co-founded the Bullurgan Cycling Club with its own cyclocross track. Here they offer their expertise to local children.
Eve McCrystal is a member of the Garda Cycling Club – having served in Ardee before taking a career break – and before that she was a member of the Cúchulainn Cycling Club in Dundalk.
They do not lay claims on her success but like to think she remains associated with them. President Pat O’Shaughnessy spoke about the achievement of her medal run – noting in particular the “stunning” 54km/h speed – but her stature as role model seemed more important.
“Somebody asked me, what’s her biggest attribute, and I said that the flag she has flown the most is for mothers and young kids who also want to do this,” he said. “Because she came to the sport late [and] she has been some ambassador for women and mothers in sport.”