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Big turnout in little town for road racer Mark

IT was a night of celebrations as a tiny Westmeath village gave a hero's welcome to one of their own.

A crowd of up to 3,000 descended on the picturesque village of Ballinahown to welcome Paralympic road race gold medallist Mark Rohan.

He was greeted by cheers and applause as he returned to the village where he lives and trains.

Mark thanked the crowd for their support but added that he was in shock at the turnout.

"I'm really overwhelmed by the crowd that is here. I just want to say thank you very much. I'm delighted to come home and share the success of the paralympic team with you."

His parents Carmel and Damien were delighted at the reception.

"We're absolutely over the moon. To get such a welcome in a small little country village like this. Its unbelievable," said Damien.

Cyclist

He also thanked the community for all their help during the most difficult time in their lives, when Mark had his accident 11 year ago.

Also being honoured was bronze-medallist Damien Shaw, the sighted cyclist who took part in the tandem cycling events with James Brown.

As the pair were given a guard of honour by their cycling clubs, the crowd roared and cheered.

But while the celebrations continue in Ballinahown, it is back to reality today for Damien who returns to work as a fireman in Mullingar.

He said: "It's back to work now but I'm also looking forward to chilling out for a while."

Among the fans who gathered to welcome the pair home was Sarah Malone (11) from Bellmont, Co Offaly, who has cerebral palsy.

She revealed how excited she was to meet her hero Mark.

"He's pure amazing. My Dad and I watched the Olympics," she said.

Sarah revealed she would like to compete in the Olympics after watching Mark in action adding; "Someday, maybe. I like swimming."

Irish Independent