Ireland's Paralympic hero Mark Rohan has re-invented himself once again
There may never have been an Irish sportsman who has reinvented himself as often as the inspirational Mark Rohan.
He may be known for triumph in sealing two cycling gold medals for Ireland at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, yet this two-time world champion from Ballinahown in Westmeath has not allowed his passion for sport and life to wane since his retirement from top level competition.
In fact, doors continue to open for Rohan, with this all-action hero who has crammed more into his nearly 37 years on this planet than most of us will manage in three lifetimes always wanting more.
Currently focusing his attentions on launching a cycling hub at the Quinta Do Lago holiday resort in Portugal’s Algarve, Rohan is as passionate about those pursuits as he was when chasing Paralympic glory and that may explain why he is one of Ireland’s greatest champions.
Rohan's life that changed forever on a November morning back in 2001 after he jumped on his Honda motorbike and sped off to play a football game, yet that sporting date was destined to be missed.
The injuries Rohan sustained in a high-speed accident included a crushed vertebra (T-2 to T-5), four broken ribs, four compound fractures of his right leg, a broken foot, a torn aorta, a broken sternum, a broken clavicle and bleeding on the spinal cord.
He was lucky to be alive and but Rohan may not have believed that when he woke up to discover the extent of his injuries as this was a young man who had sport at the heart of his every day existence, so the prospect of life in a wheelchair was hardly appealing and yet it didn’t take him long to appreciate there was still a route to sporting greatness, even if he was to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
“I had the same drive to achieve the maximum in sport the day before the accident as I did the next morning and I had to get my head around the idea that I needed to look at something different,” begins Rohan, in an interview with Independent.ie
“Your life changes in an instant and you have to deal with that and adapt to what comes next. I was in the chair, I had to accept that and I got my head around the idea of becoming the best Paralympic athlete I could be.
“I played some basketball, a bit of tennis and then I got a bike and just loved it. The freedom of it, the fresh air, the peace of mind it gives you. I started training and in Ireland, there wasn’t too many competing so you could get into World Championships and the like and I just loved training and competing.
“The way I see it now is everything that happens in my life from now on is a bonus and I will enjoy it. That is the way I view it and am enjoying where I am now. The desire to be in competitive sport has gone for me, but this life is much more relaxed and I’m loving it. Thankfully good opportunities have come my way and I am trying to take them.
“Sport has been great for me and I am lucky to have been able to enjoy my life doing what I love doing.”
Rohan admits Paralympic accomplishments from London 2012 now ‘seems like a lifetime’ ago, as he has spent the last six years travelling the world in a bid to understand the inner workings of sport.
He completed a business degree with Real Madrid FC, an internship with Wembley Stadium, spent time working at sports clubs in America and a three-month placement with the Australian Paralympic association.
Now he supremely qualified to remain in sport for the rest of his life, with Rohan determined to succeed in his latest venture of building on the huge growth in cycling.
He is currently heading up the cycling school at sparkling new The Campus resort in Portugal, as he looks to change the image of a sport so badly tarnished by past and ongoing doping scandals.
“The drug stories undoubtedly damaged cycling,” states Rohan. “For amateur riders who do it for the love of it and the fitness benefits, maybe it doesn’t matter, but the image of cycling was badly damaged by all the drug stories.
“In terms of exposure, credibility of the sport and getting sponsorship, big companies don’t want to be associated with it.
“When Lance Armstrong was exposed, as he rightly was, the interest in America dropped off dramatically because they only support winners and didn’t want to be associated with someone who had cheated.
“The suspicion around Team Sky at the moment is worrying as well, but the boom in cycling among amateur riders is still ongoing in Europe and we hope the scenery and the set-up we have here at The Campus in Quinta Do Lago taps into that.”
Set amongst 2,000 acres of the picturesque Ria Formosa National Park, The Campus at Quinta do Lago, in Southern Portugal, is a multi-sport academy hub, designed as a sport and well-being destination and elite performance venue and Rohan believes he can help to make it the first choice destination for all cycling enthusiasts.
“The food is great in Portugal, the wine is fantastic, the scenery and weather is amazing and we have a great tie-in with the brand new Magnolia Hotel down here which makes a cycling holiday at The Campus very affordable,” he added.
“Majorca has long been the epicentre of cycling holidays. That’s where the pro teams go and where cycling fans go for riding holidays, but this is a hidden gem on the European landscape.
“You can do 100k down here and not even notice you have done it as you will be blown away by the views that are just spectacular.
“We replicate some of the stages that will be used in the Volta ao Algarve, a professional cycle race staged here every year, and it is a great experience if you are a serious cyclist or interested in getting into the sport for the first time.
“What we have seen in the last few years is that people who may never have considered getting into cycling are getting the bug and that is not just the sport itself. It is the bikes, the clothing and everything around it.
“We have had guys down coming down to us in Portugal with €12,000 bikes and three grand wheels, so this has become a massive part of people’s lives. When you are willing to spend more on a bike than a car, you have to love it and that is not unusual any more.
“I’m loving life here in Portugal and you have to make the most of every opportunity. Obstacles are put in front of you, but you have to overcome them and look for the next challenge.”
That positive ethos has taken Rohan through his darkest hour and on to his greatest triumphs and even after he has achieved so much, you get the impression this wonderfully driven hero is only just beginning.
To discover The Campus for yourself, visit https://www.quintadolago.com/en/the-campus/ #TheCampusQDL