SWIMMING champion Darragh McDonald has rowed in to support the beleaguered staff of the Central Remedial Clinic.
The 19-year-old college student from Gorey, Co Wexford, who won a gold medal for Ireland at the London 2012 Paralympics, credits the staff at the Dublin-based facility for not only teaching him how to walk on double prosthetic limbs but ultimately giving him the independence that paved the way for his stellar career as an elite athlete.
Born with a congenital abnormality that left him with no legs below the knees and a right arm that extends only to his elbow, he first started receiving therapy at the Clontarf-based centre as a six-month-old infant, when he was fitted with prosthetic limbs.
"I literally learnt to walk there on my knees and with the prosthetic limbs," he told the Sunday Independent.
"It takes a special kind of skill to teach that but they made it almost easy," he said.
"They essentially taught me to walk and gave me independence."
Thanks to the dedication and professionalism of the staff and the clinic, Darragh said the weekly and bi-weekly therapy he got at the centre for the first seven years of his life has allowed him to excel in his athletic career as well as live a normal, independent life like any other teenager.
He shares a typical student house in Blackrock, Co Dublin, with three other housemates while he attends his first year of studies as a commerce student at UCD after being the first paralympian to receive the Ad Astra Elite Athlete Scholarship last September.
And he said none of it would have been possible if it weren't for the CRC.
Yet like many of the current and former clients of the CRC, he is worried that the escalating scandal over the gold-plated pension paid to former CRC director Paul Kiely will have serious consequences for the charity, its hardworking frontline staff and ultimately their clients.
"I think the whole service they provide has been caught up in a bad light. But I attribute so much of my life to them and as soon as I heard what was happening I wanted to speak out about the good things," he said.
He has posted a number of tweets on his Twitter account over the growing scandal to say that people are unfairly tarring the frontline staff with the same brush as the board of directors who resigned when the first pension top-up scandal came to light in December.
He also worries that funds raised for the charity by volunteers will dry up and have a devastating impact on clients.
"I'm disgusted. It goes beyond belief," he said of the controversy.
"But how can you take away people's independence by taking away funds like that?"