Mum's the Word

What an amazing time it's been for heroes

Jillian Bolger

What an amazing summer for role models. London 2012 gave the Irish much to be proud of as we came together in support of our Olympic heroes -- every child in the country now knows who Katie Taylor is.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy is inspiring a new generation of youngsters to pick up a golf club for the first time.

But there's a whole new breed of Irish sports stars that, in some ways, are even more worthy of role model status -- the Paralympians with their spinal cord injuries, impaired vision, amputated limbs and muscular conditions who, against the odds, have conquered their individual disabilities to join the best in the world at their chosen sports.

But what do we think when we see a wheelchair? A guide dog? A twisted limb? Do we assume that person is weaker than us? That we're better off? If the Paralympics teach us just one thing it should be to never take a person at face value.


Take Helen Kearney, the 23-year-old Wicklow woman who is in a wheelchair because of a rare neuromuscular disorder. Despite it cruelly causing loss of coordination and muscle strength, Helen just won three medals at para-equestrian dressage at the London Paralympics.

Or how about Gorey teenager Darragh McDonald who comfortably took gold in his 400m freestyle swim despite being born missing part of his right arm and both legs below the knee.

Jason Smyth may only have 10pc vision but that hasn't stopped the incredible athlete scoop two gold medals for running in London. So fast are his World Record times that this visually impaired athlete is hoping to qualify for the Rio Olympics in 2016, where he'd be competing against Usain Bolt.

Ireland's other track star and double gold Paralympics medal winner, is Antrim-born Michael McKillop who suffers from cerebral palsy. Despite the diagnosis, this record-setting middle distance runner recently beat a whole field of able-bodied athletes to win the Irish Under-23 1,500m title.


Then there's Mark Rohan, who survived a motorbike accident in 2001 that left him paralysed from the waist down. The former Westmeath footballer mightn't be able to walk but he's current double world hand cycling champion and he returned from the Paralympics with two gold medals.

If your children love riding their bikes, or are even at the learning stages, sit them down at your computer and show them some recent footage of the London velodrome where top Paralympians speed impressively around the track despite missing arms, legs and hands.

How do you ride a bike with one leg, never mind race competitively? It's something every child would benefit from considering.

If you do just one thing with your kids tonight, sit down and Google the amazing Daniel Dias. Despite being born with three malformed limbs, this Brazilian Michael Phelps scooped an impressive six gold medals at swimming events in the London Paralympics, matching his record of golds for the Beijing Paralympics in 2008.