Friday 28 October 2016

The world beater who feared he'd never walk again

Published 16/06/2015 | 02:30

Irish gymnast Kieran Behan in Dublin at the recent announcement of his BT sponsorship deal renewal
Irish gymnast Kieran Behan in Dublin at the recent announcement of his BT sponsorship deal renewal
Ireland's Kieran Behan competes on the rings during the Artistic Gymnastics Men's Team Final at the 2015 European Games in Azerbaijan
Kieran competing in the 2015 European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, at the weekend

He has performed front and centre stage in the Olympics and is one of Ireland's top athletes, but gymnast Kieran Behan needs a part-time job to help him get by.

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The 26-year-old has travelled a long and difficult road to Baku, Azerbaijan, where he is currently performing exceedingly well in the European Games.

Yesterday he qualified for the all-around and floor finals at the Games.

To get there, Behan, who was once told that he would be wheelchair-bound for life, is in the gym 55 hours a week, and it is not all training.

He works as a coach in Tolworth Gymnastics Club, where he first laid eyes on a balance beam as a boisterous and energetic eight-year-old boy that was "causing havoc" at home.

"My mum and dad thought I had far too much energy, so they got me into gymnastics to stop me climbing the curtains.

"I train 30 hours a week and I coach 25 hours a week, so it is pretty full-on," the London athlete said.

Behan, who was born to a Dublin dad and Monaghan mother, said that he now receives a "small amount" of funding from the Irish Sports Council and relies on sponsorship. This comes after years of help from his family and friends, as being a top athlete comes with an "extremely expensive" price tag. He is currently sponsored by BT.

"It makes a huge difference in helping me maintain my financial state. Otherwise, for sure, I wouldn't be able to train or compete," he told the Irish Independent.

Kieran became just the second gymnast to represent Ireland in the Olympics when he qualified for the 2012 Games, even though he was born across the Irish Sea.

"All throughout my childhood there has been a strong Irish influence. We always came over during my summer holidays to visit my nan and my mum's family," he said.

Kieran's journey from a Tolworth gym to the Olympics has not been smooth. When he was just 10 years old, an operation on a benign tumour in his leg left him wheelchair-bound, and doctors warned that he would never walk again. But a determination to get back on his feet speeded up his recovery.

However, two years later he sustained a bad head injury during a fall, leaving him back in the wheelchair for some time.

In 2010, he snapped his right cruciate ligament, setting his training back even further.

"And then I snapped the left. When I did the left it was a bit hard for me. If it wasn't for my family and my girlfriend around me, I would have been in a very different place, I think," he added.

"I feel very good, I feel very healthy. I feel like I am the fittest and strongest I have been."

Irish Independent

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