Hero brings home Canadian gold
Celebrations after former GAA star's paracycling win
Published 25/08/2010 | 05:00
HE is the former GAA football star who turned his hand to paracycling after a horrific crash on the way to a match.
And last night, Mark Rohan returned to Ireland as the country's latest gold medalist, after victory on the world stage.
He arrived in Dublin Airport to cheers from family and friends at 8.30am after taking first place in the H1 category handcycling road race at the Paracycling World Road Championships in Baie-Comeau, Canada, on Saturday.
But last night, in his home village of Ballinahown, Co Westmeath, all Mark wanted was a good night's sleep.
"The whole thing is a bit of a shock, to be honest. It hasn't really sunk in yet," he told the Irish Independent.
"I got on a bus to Montreal 36 hours ago and then flew from there to Dublin. I wouldn't mind getting into my bed right now."
"I'm absolutely thrilled for Mark, and it's great for the whole community as well," his father, Denis Rohan, said.
"We're a very small village, and when Mark had his accident everyone rallied around, so it's great to have a homecoming party for everyone to enjoy."
Despite his massive success, Rohan only took up just 18 months ago when he was approached by Cycling Ireland to get involved.
Before that, he was a star player on Ireland's wheelchair basketball team, captaining them in the 2007 European championships in Dublin.
To pick up his gold medal, battled a gruelling 34km road race and finished just seconds ahead of his nearest rival, previous world champion Wolfgang Schattauer of Austria.
"I wouldn't be best friends with this guy -- he beat me two months ago in Spain," he said.
Mark has been in a wheelchair since a horrific motorcycle crash, on his way to a local soccer match in November 2001, left him paralysed from the chest down.
Mark, who played under-21 football for Westmeath before his accident, was saluted by the county GAA board's chairman Tom Farrell at his homecoming in Ballinahown's local hall.
Handcycling involves the use of a three-wheel chair, controlled by a chain between the front and rear wheels.
The athlete headed out to Canada with a squad of 11 cyclists as part of Cycling Ireland's team, who hope the win will help them qualify for the 2012 Paralympics in London. "Mark's gold medal got us a load of ranking points," Irish paracycling manager Denis Toomey explained.
"The rest of the team got three fifth places and an eighth place, so we're guaranteed two slots already for London."