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I was told I'd never walk again -- today I'm aiming for the Olympics

Bernie Behan just couldn't figure it out. Each night she'd take her eight-year-year-old son Kieran to his bedroom but the eyelids just wouldn't close.

"The child never slept" she recalls. "He was full of energy, constantly.

"I needed to come up with something to tire him out. He was always climbing and used to shimmy up the door frame -- so one day I decided I was going to enrol him in a gymnastics club."

This evening, 14 years on, at The O2 Arena in London, Kieran will attempt to become the first Irish gymnast to qualify for the Olympic Games. While Barry McDonald did represent Ireland in Atlanta '96, he was there on the back of a wild-card selection.

But while clinching a place at London 2012 would be an astonishing accomplishment for the 22-year-old, he's already achieved more than anyone could have ever predicted.

At the age of 10 a tumour was discovered on Kieran's left thigh. After an anxious wait his parents, Bernie (née Gavan) from Newbliss, Co Monaghan, and dad Phil from Dublin, were told it wasn't cancerous.

Kieran and his family, who live in Croydon, South London, were told a routine operation would be needed to remove the growth and that the youngster would be back shimmying up the door frame in no time.

But there was a complication on the operating table and by the time he left theatre he had suffered severe nerve damage.

The post-operative prognosis wasn't good. "The doctors prepared me for the worst and told me it would be very unlikely that I'd ever walk again. But I knew my leg worked and I put that to the front of my mind and I got through it," says Kieran at the Tolworth gymnastics club near Kingston-upon-Thames.

Kieran left St George's hospital in Tooting in a wheelchair and his mother says it was heartbreaking.

"It was a huge shock -- but we knew we couldn't let his spirits dip. We did physio on him at home and tried our best not to show him we were upset.

"Kieran had faith in himself and that carried us through."

Amazingly, 15 months after being told he could never walk again, Kieran was back in the gym doing what he loved best.

His recovery stunned the medics and the dark days for the Behan family seemed to be behind them, until disaster struck again within weeks.

A freak training accident resulted in brain damage soon after Kieran's 12th birthday.

"I was working on the high bar and I just slipped and the back of my head landed on the bar itself.

"I damaged the inner canal so the impact on what's called the vestibular system left me in a state. Basically, if I was moving left or right or upside down, my body didn't know where I was and I'd black out."

For the second time in two years, Kieran was told he might never again walk. But his determination saw him fight back for a second time.

He said: "After that accident I had to re-learn everything all over again like how to sit up in the bed and how to move my eyes properly.

"Because the problem was with balance I'd pass out if I moved my head too suddenly.

"It was a very difficult time for me, but with my family's support I made it through."

With his parents' blessing, Kieran returned to the gym floor and accolades at youth level soon followed.

Just over three years ago, he based himself at Tolworth but cruciate ligament injuries to both knees stalled his progress until the end of 2010.

After years of misfortune and frustration, Kieran finally made his mark in 2011 where a glorious calendar year ended with him winning floor gold for Ireland at the Challenge World Series in the Czech Republic last month.

And in October in Tokyo, he did enough to book his place in tonight's ultimate Olympic qualifier, where he'll fight it out with 41 other gymnasts for 26 places at the games.

But Kieran's success has come at a cost. In 2011 he forked out almost €12,000 in expenses, which included flights to Japan, Germany, Slovenia and Croatia as well as accommodation and costs for himself, his back-up team and Irish judges who are expected to travel to events where Irish athletes are in action.

Gymnastics Ireland are unable to fund Kieran's training or most of his expenses and one of his coaches, Simon Gale, admits the lack of financial assistance is difficult for the athlete.

He said: "It's very expensive and Kieran doesn't have a major sponsor, so he and his family have to foot the bill for almost everything."

The journey from his wheelchair to this evening's Olympic qualifiers is truly inspirational and it's little wonder Kieran's mother calls him "her hero".

Whatever happens, Kieran knows he's already been victorious in adversity. He said: "If I do make the Olympic Games, then that would be a complete dream come true, but I'm just so glad that after all that's happened to me, I'm just there participating and doing Ireland proud and my parents proud."

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