Athletics: Gymnast finances leap to Olympics with cake sales and car washes
Published 13/01/2012 | 05:00
HE is the gymnast who has defied expert opinion that he would never walk again to compete for Ireland at the Olympics.
But Kieran Behan has also had to overcome significant financial hurdles.
The 22-year-old has had to rely on money raised from cake sales and car washes to compete internationally, and at times has struggled to afford basic hand-protection straps.
Mr Behan, who was told as a child he would never walk again on two separate occasions after ill-health, this week became only the second Irish gymnast to qualify for an Olympic Games despite the fact he has received little or no funding from Irish sporting bodies.
Last year alone, the floor specialist, who is based in Surrey, was out of pocket to the tune of almost €12,000 spent on travel and accommodation expenses.
"It's been very difficult and my family have put every spare penny they have into me," he told the Irish Independent yesterday.
One of his coaches, Simon Gale, said Mr Behan has had to jump train barriers to save the fare at times. "It's been a struggle for him," he said.
"Gymnastics Ireland hasn't been able to fund him so far really and last year alone he spent thousands on competing in places like Japan, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia and the Czech Republic."
Kieran's father Phil, from Dublin, is a builder and his mother Bernie, from Co Monaghan, works sourcing materials for her husband's work.
"For years now we've given every bit of money we can to help Kieran realise this amazing dream. We haven't been on a holiday for 10 years but every penny will be worth it to see him representing Ireland in London 2012," Bernie said as she watched him come fourth in the floor section during the third day of the Men's Gymnastics Final at North Greenwich Arena in London last night.
Mr Behan has already proven he can win against the odds.
A non-cancerous tumour was discovered on his leg when he was 10, with complications arising in the operation to remove it leaving him in a wheelchair.
Remarkably, Mr Behan recovered, and 15 months later he was back in the gym, only for a freak training accident to leave him with brain damage.
After a great deal of rehabilitation, Mr Behan again returned to the gym, and the Irish Sports Council said yesterday the London-born gymnast would now be eligible for a grant worth €12,000, with the first instalment of that being lodged possibly in March.
An appearance on 'The Late Late Show' in the coming weeks is already on the cards for the floor specialist.