'The funny thing is that before the accident I'd no interest in sport at all'
Published 10/09/2016 | 02:30
Declan Slevin (47) from Kilcatherina, near Moate, Co Westmeath, never imagine he would be representing Ireland in sport but next week he will vie for a Paralympic medal in handcycling.
The farmer and builder saw his world change forever 12 years ago when an accident left him paralysed from the chest down.
"I was lying in hospital wondering was it lights out," he said. "I had three months' rehab but within three weeks the doctors told me my legs wouldn't recover. I just had to take it on the chin."
Instead of letting his injury define him, Declan began to push himself on through sport. He started with wheelchair basketball before falling in love with handcycling.
Now fourth in the world in the discipline, Declan is one of the country's hopes to bring home a medal from Rio.
"The funny thing is before the accident I had no interest in sport at all, I had no time for it. Then I was introduced to this sport and I fell in love with it. I took it up when I was 42, I never thought I'd compete at this level but here I am at 47 and I'm ranked fourth in the world," he said.
He credits his family, who will be on hand to cheer him on for helping him achieve his dream.
"My family and friends were great. I have a great wife and I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for her. I could never have imagined this when I was lying in a bed in Dún Laoghaire thinking it was all over. I had two young daughters at home and I was determined to get back home to them," he said.
Despite being told he would be unable to have any more children, Declan and his wife Evelyn welcomed their third child, a son Graham five years ago.
"Being told I wouldn't have more kids was one of the hardest things to take but now not only do we have Graham but now I'm doing something I couldn't imagine by being here in Rio representing my country.
"No matter what you face in life, sport can make a better man of you. There's more to life than working all day."
Declan will compete on Wednesday, taking part in a 20km time trial and a 60km road race.