Saturday 24 March 2018

Lynch riding above adversity

Ruaidhri O’Connor

WHEN Colin Lynch assumes his place on the start line in London there will be few alongside him who have taken a more unusual journey.

Born in Canada to an Irish father, he lost his leg in his 20s after a rugby tackle went horribly wrong.

It is a prospect that few who play the game contemplate, but serious injuries do occur, and those who suffer them are left with a very different future.

Lynch started cycling to stay fit, having taken part in the sport as a younger man. It is, he explains, recommended for those who have lost limbs because of its low-impact nature.

He stuck with it and next summer, he will go into the Paralympic Games as a world champion. Lynch moved to England eight years ago and got more involved in cycling, finding it to be an outlet that he could excel in.

He tuned into the Paralympics in Beijing and saw something that he could aim towards. Next summer he will be part of the magic -- wearing a green jersey.

"My eyes were only really opened to the Paralympic movement after the last Paralympics," he explains.

"I had no idea that the opportunities existed at an international level and, until I actually went and raced, I didn't know if I could meet the standard. The standard was really, really tough, much harder than I anticipated."

Lynch was playing in the second-row for his local team in Canada when he went into a tackle and suffered a broken leg and a spinal cord injury.

"The combination of the two meant that, after several years, I lost my leg below the knee," he says. "It is a very violent sport."

Although it was challenging, Lynch adapted. Helped by technology that is rapidly improving, the now 41-year-old took up cycling and soon began competing.

Having been involved in competitive cycling since his teens, there was something to build on.

"I used to be a bike racer when I was much younger before I lost my leg. A few years ago, I got back into cycling as a way to get fit and lose weight," he says.

"That competitive edge never really goes away, so I started competing locally and it started going well. I decided to take it to the next level. I tried out for the Irish squad and they gave me a chance.

"I've worked hard at it for the last couple of years to get to the very top and it has paid off.

"It has taken me a good three years to get to the very top, but the last year has been my breakthrough. The reason for that is I dedicated all of my time to it.

"I became a full-time cyclist -- until then I couldn't put in the training time, the recovery time and do all the little things you have to do to become very, very good."

Having reached a certain level, another piece in Lynch's jigsaw was the development of a new technology that allowed him to have a prosthetic leg made to suit his specific needs.

"A company called Pace Rehabilitation took me on and produced a carbon fibre leg for me," he says.

"The cleat allows the leg be attached directly to the pedals; there's no loss of energy, it is light so it means I can turn the pedals very quickly and it is aerodynamic -- all of those little things that I need to save seconds and energy over the course of a race."

The new leg, combined with Irish Sports Council funding that allowed him to go full-time, culminated in a glorious day last September when Lynch took gold at the World Time-Trial Championships in Denmark.

"It was my second World Championships and last year I came 12th, but after a year of training full-time and constant racing, that allowed me to improve," he says proudly.

"Month after month I could feel myself getting better and better and it was a constant improvement."

But having reached that level, he knows it is all about keeping himself at the top and tweaking the small things he can still improve on.

"In the next year I won't have that same level of improvement. When you go from relatively untrained to trained, there's a gap that needs to be made up," he says.

"But once you get to the top, you can only make minor improvements and the goal for the next year is to get just that little bit better. My competitors will be trying to do the same."

Living in Manchester, he trains alongside the British track cycling team who are expected to bring home plenty of medals at the Olympics. Being in England, it is hard not to get swept up in the excitement building ahead of the London Games.

"It is something that I have tried to put into the back of my mind because I have other competitions to focus on before the Paralympics come around," he says.

"But with ticket sale announcements and with my family coming over and the whole qualification process -- combined with living in England where the games are taking place -- there is a constant reminder that it is coming, that we have to get ready.

"Slowly, but surely, I'm getting excited. But because there is so much work to do before I'm ready I don't want to get too ahead of myself and too excited. As time goes on and the games get closer, then I will start thinking about it and what it is going to feel like to win medals and be on the podium."

That is the dream. Now Colin Lynch faces eight months of hard work to reach his goal.

He's well used to overcoming challenges.

Irish Independent

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