Thursday 27 October 2016

Fighting cancer and losing a leg did not break Patrick O’Leary's heart and determination

Barry Lennon

Published 14/09/2016 | 13:46

Patrick O'Leary
Patrick O'Leary

PARACANOEIST Patrick O’Leary has cherished family support ahead of today’s KL3 200m heats, saying others would’ve given the NUIG academic his own lecture long before now.

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The Cork man, who had his own battles with cancer and losing a leg, realises sympathy only lasts so long.

“You can't train 14 times a week and not have somebody pick up the pieces. A lot of people would have turned around a long time ago and told me to cop on to myself, start helping out more,” he explains.

“I get up at 5.45 to go training before college, do a gym session at lunch but generally try and keep evenings to spend with my wife and two kids.”

O'Leary battled knee cancer while completing his Leaving Cert, but reflects that event was easier than what was to come.

“Eighteen-year-olds, as I was then, get on with it and they don't know any better. They're not looking at the huge life plan and can afford to be a little bit selfish,” he says.

“For my parents it was probably harder and I've only just realised that once I had kids of my own.”

The metal knee joint inserted during his illness would later become infected forcing him to have his leg removed after a long illness in 2011.

“My leg wasn't really doing anything for me in the end so it made sense. But it's not the nicest feeling in the world knowing you’re going to come back from an operating theatre an awful lot lighter than when you went in.”

O'Leary had always paddled but only turned to the sport seriously after the replacement joint ruled him out of athletics.

The 43-year-old became determined to reach Rio when he heard his class of canoeing was to be entered in its first Paralympics this year.

O'Leary hopes for some good fortune from same course that granted rowers Paul and Gary O'Donovan Olympic silver in August, when he takes to the heats (at 1.50pm today).

Although praising their Skibbereen duo's sportsmanship he reminds there are differences between the two sports.

“There's always this tension between rowers and canoeist. We look where we're going they look like where they've been,” he says.

“But if it's a course that's friendly for Irish boats that has to be good.”

When pushed for a goal O'Leary says he will be remaining realistic about his chances in today's race.

“I must remember that I qualified in seventh place and there’s eight places in the final. I'd love to think I'd knock off one or two of the guys ahead of me. ”

If he can do that he believes he may be able to join his NUIG colleague and fellow paralympian, Eoghan Clifford who claimed bronze in Saturday's C3 Individual Pursuit.

When he returns to lecture in chemistry next week, he hopes it too will be with a medal around his neck.

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