Wedded to sport as well as each other


Sport is all-consuming passion for Ronan and Rena Rooney

THERE IS believed to be only one husband and wife team competing in the Paralympics, and they are Irish.

Yesterday Ronan Rooney (52) and his wife Rena (47) followed each other into the ExCeL Arena to compete in wheelchair table tennis.

The couple, who live in Co Galway, are united by their love of sport. They met through a sports jamboree and Ronan moved to Galway when Rena was studying languages at NUI Galway.

This is Ronan’s sixth Paralympics. Like many Paralympians he switched sport, having won a bronze in the wheelchair marathon in 1984, for the more technical if less exhausting demands of table tennis.

His wife has dedicated years to getting to the Paralympics for the first time and smiled broadly despite losing her opening match to an Italian competitor ranked in the top four in the world. “I was happy with the way I played.”

All her five siblings travelled over from Donegal and filled the galleries behind her. “When I saw my family I got quite emotional, but I got over it,” she said.

Rena is in a wheelchair as a result of a car accident at the age of 14; Ronan after he came off a motorbike when he was 18.

Getting to the Paralympics was an all-consuming passion for both, necessitating 12 international tournaments and two to three trips a week to Dublin for training.

Ronan had the misfortune to run into Paralympic champion Vincent Boury and lost in straight sets 3-0. Last night he was facing elimination against Martin Ludrovsky and again lost in straight sets albeit against an opponent ranked higher than himself. He still has the team competition to come.

His wife remains in the tournament and will compete again today.

Neither of the other Irish wheelchair table tennis participants had any luck. Philip Quinlan could not really get going against the world No 1, France’s Jean François Ducay, though he had the consolation of being one of the best supported players in the ExCel yesterday with an estimated 60 friends and family in attendance, including his uncle Fr Donal Doyle who flew in from Japan.

Eimear Breathnach said she was too nervous on the first day of competition, losing in straight sets. She is aiming to get the nerves out of her system today.

As in most paralympic sports, the competitors have varying levels of disability. Balancing a ball on an arm stump before serving is quite an impressive skill, but the star of the first day of competition was the little Italian Raimondo Alecci who swivelled on his crutch and performed like quite the showman to see off his much taller German opponent.

Among the visitors to London yesterday was Minister for Sport Leo Varadkar. He revealed he had met the Duke and Duchess of Cambridgeshire, making small talk about search and rescue. “He is a pilot and the coast guard falls into my diverse department,” the Minister said.