Daráine Mulvihill: `My life wouldn’t have been any better . . . just easier'

A new baby, a new house. Oh and there’s the Paralympics to present on RTÉ, too

In this interview from 2013, Daráine Mulvihill talks about losing her legs to meningococcal septicaemia and how this has affected her life. Video: Meningitis Research Foundation

 

It’s a quiet enough spell in the life of Daráine Mulvihill. Well, if you don’t count her daily work as a presenter on RTÉ’s coverage of the Paralympics, the fact that she is due her first baby in November, and that she and her husband Keith are currently enmeshed in mortgage meetings as they attempt to buy a home.

“I never do things by half,” she laughs, although she seems relaxed enough about this collision of major life happenings. “The whole time I’ve been thinking, ‘first: Paralympics’, and when that’s over I’ll have eight weeks or so to think about having the baby. It’s a bit daunting, and everybody tells you different things. Some people say ‘aaaah, you’ll be fine’, others say ‘ugh, it’s going to be hell’.”

Helpful.

But first, the Paralympics. It is four years since Mulvihill’s big television break came when she was chosen by Channel 4 as one of their presenting team for the London Paralympics, having worked largely as a researcher and presenter on RTÉ children’s programmes until then.

The success of that experience led to further work with Channel 4 on the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi and with the BBC on this year’s Invictus Games in Orlando. And now, alongside Joanne Cantwell, she is the face of RTÉ’s Paralympics coverage.

It’s been a dizzying four years, then.

“And it’s funny now ... I remember when I was in hospital my friends coming in and trying to encourage me, telling me about this thing, the Paralympics – I had never heard of them. And now they’re such a central part of my life.”

It was 1999 when Mulvihill had that lengthy spell in hospital after contracting meningitis. The then 16-year-old was given the last rites after a series of complications, including septicaemia, liver and kidney failure, blood poisoning, pneumonia and gangrene, leading to her doctors telling her parents she had less than a 10 per cent chance of survival.

Survive she did, but only after her legs and fingers were amputated. Her courage through the ordeal earned her national acclaim, a Person of the Year award in 2001, and an appointment to the Council of State by Mary McAleese.

Second Captains

That was then, this is now. Mulvihill went on to build a life she never thought possible in her darkest days. It’s partly because of the role others played in making her believe that life was possible, people who had gone through similar experiences, that she shows no impatience with her disability habitually featuring in any profile of her.

“I don’t think it’s the most important part of who I am at all. But, at the same time, it is part of who I am. The person I was beforehand and the person I was after is exactly the same. But, of course, there are more challenges in my life since then.

“It’s a difficult one because I don’t want people to look at me and think only of my disability and feel they have to treat me differently. But sometimes I think because it’s not immediately obvious that I have a disability people don’t take it into account – and that can be an issue. I can be slower doing things. I can get more tired than somebody else might get. Sometimes I might be in pain if I have to walk too far.

Normal lives

“When I was at that stage in hospital, when I was coming to the realisation that my limbs were gone and they weren’t coming back, I just thought, I’m not going to have a normal life now. But then I started meeting people who had gone through similar things and they were living normal lives. So I was thinking, if they’re doing it, maybe it’s possible. It’s in those instances you realise how important role models are.

“There was a girl who had been in a fire a couple of years before I got sick and she lost an arm and two legs and she had a lot of burns. She came in to chat with me.

She sat down and said ‘sorry, I’m hungover, I was out last night’. I was like, ‘you were out?’ You were able to? Do you not fall in a nightclub?’ And she said, ‘I have, yeah, once or twice – but sure, it’s grand.” Suddenly I was seeing that maybe things will be different, but they can also be the same – just doing things in a slightly different way.”

Like getting drunk?

“No!”

“But you know, my life wouldn’t have been any better had this not happened, it would just be easier. That’s all. I wouldn’t be a happier person. There wouldn’t be more down days. Disability is just another thing I have to cope with, but it’s not enough to make life terrible.”

Mulvihill has a natural sensitivity, of course, to how the Paralympics should be covered, and she’s ever conscious of the age old debate over whether the focus should solely be on achievement or combined with the “back story” of the athletes.

“It’s a really difficult balance. It’s one of the most difficult parts of the Paralympics. But I think it needs to be both. A lot of the athletes don’t want that, they don’t want their story to be about their disability. But I feel when you’re watching, you need to know it to appreciate what they are doing. You can’t ignore it.

“And it’s important, too, that it’s known how much they put into becoming Paralympians, what they go through.

“If you’re an average wheelchair user in Ireland and your colleagues are watching the Paralympics at night and coming in next morning and telling you, you too could be a Paralympian – you’re like, ‘so you too could be Usain Bolt?’. They’re on a different level. And there is that perception that if you have a disability you can become a Paralympian. That’s not how it works.”

Challenges ahead

With her own challenges ahead, she takes inspiration from these Paralympians.

“I have extra concerns and worries. I go ‘my God, will I be able to take care of the baby?’ But I think it’ll be the same as everything I’ve gone through in life, you just get there and you find a way. You find a different way of doing everything.

“You see the Paralympians, like the swimmers, there were amputees taking off their socks and stuff, just using bits of their arms. The Egyptian table tennis player? With the bat in his mouth? And picking the ball up with his foot? Unreal.

“People just find a way to adapt. And that’s what having a disability is – you have to work a little bit harder to overcome things. It’s part of it all the time. But there’s always a way.”

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