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From school days to Paralympic gold medals – Jason Smyth tells Newstalk all about life as a Paralympic athlete

He’s officially known as the fastest Paralympian on the planet, and having a host of gold medals under his belt certainly shows the proof of that, but for Jason Smyth, it hasn’t always been an easy road as he explained to Newstalk Breakfast this morning. 

“I have Stargardt’s disease,” Jason, who is also an ambassador for Fighting Blindness, began. “It’s an eye condition that I have which I was diagnosed with when I was eight years of age.”19 August 2014; Team Ireland's Jason Smyth, from Eglinton, Co. Derry, in action during the final of the men's 100m - T12, where he won gold with a time of 10.78. 2014 IPC Athletics European Championships, Swansea University, Swansea, Wales. Picture credit: Chris Vaughan / SPORTSFILE *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***“Basically it affects the central vision and that is what people use for seeing things clearly and seeing things at distance – that’s the vision that’s affected for me.

“To describe it simply, if you look into a camera when it’s out of focus, you see blurry outlines of colour and shapes – that’s kind of what I see. It’s roughly about 10 per cent vision I have in both eyes.

“At the minute there isn’t a cure, but I think we’re making a lot of progress with technology and science, I’m optimistic that in the future something will happen and part of working with Fighting Blindness is to help them and support them moving forward,” he continued.7 September 2012; Ireland's Jason Smyth, from Eglinton, Co. Derry, celebrates after winning gold the men's 200m - T13 final. London 2012 Paralympic Games, Athletics, Olympic Stadium, Olympic Park, Stratford, London, England. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***So when did he realize that he could run fast?

“I always could run fast, long before I got involved in athletics, I played other sports and when you gave me the ball I could always run past people.

“It wasn’t until I was 16 that I got involved in athletics and it was then that I started to learn that I was fast in athletics terms and what that began to mean over time as I started to learn more about the sport,” the Derry man reflected.

“It was a school teacher who got me involved in athletics. She said that she thought that I should go to an athletics club, she saw some potential there so I told her I’d go along and see.

“I went along and that evening I met the guy who coached me all the way up to London 2012. It’s incredible to think that by that schoolteacher – Liz Maguire – giving me the opportunity or the suggestion towards athletics, what it led to,” he said, before going on to speak about the difficulties he faces when out on the track.7 September 2012; Ireland's Jason Smyth, from Eglinton, Co. Derry, celebrates with his fiance Elisa Jordan and double gold medal winner Michael McKillop, after winning gold in the men's 200m - T13 final. London 2012 Paralympic Games, Athletics, Olympic Stadium, Olympic Park, Stratford, London, England. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***“I don’t know what it’s like to have full vision, so I don’t know what it should be like to see clearly. No doubt it affects everything I do. With the 100m track, we have bright white lines on orange so the colour contrast is clear, but it becomes trickier if the track is wet with the glare off the water.”

So what’s for him after life on the track?

“To be honest, I’m starting to try and think about what I want to do and I’m still trying to figure that out. I will probably stay in sport, but I definitely won’t do coaching as you have to be able to visually see it and be able to give technical advice,” he finished.

You can listen to the full interview with Jason here

“Those three seconds were the best ever” – Michael McKillop reveals the standout moment of his career to date

As a triple Paralympic gold medallist with a host of European and World titles under your belt, there’s surely any number of career highlights and special moments to dwell on, but for athlete Michael McKillop, there’s one that stands out more than others.

You might be forgiven for thinking it’s crossing the finish line first in front of a capacity crowd at London 2012, or perhaps retaining his World title at the World Championships in Doha last year, but for McKillop, it’s something much, much closer to home.michael full length“There’s an image of me and my mum from London 2012,” he explained to Gordon D’Arcy at a Paralympics Ireland reception at the Irish Embassy in London this week. “In it you see my mum handing me my gold medal and that was a moment I will never forget.  

“I think it’s obvious across sport the connection between parents and how important they are to athletes, but especially for people with disabilities. Parents can either look at their child and say, “Okay, they have a disability” and that’s it, or they can look at their child and say “Yes, my child is disabled but what are we going to do about it? How can we help him achieve the best?” and that’s what my parents did.”17 June 2013; When 1500m winner, Michael McKillop accepted his gold medal from his mum during the Paralympic Games at London 2012 it was a world first. Catherine McKillop emerging from the tunnel on that night in September 2012 was something the sporting world had never seen. P&G’s Proud Sponsor of Mums campaign made this world first happen and now this moment has been awarded another world first. FleishmanHillard Dublin has won bronze at the Cannes Lion PR Awards for Creativity, the Olympic Games of the communications industry. Staging this unprecedented moment was a feat of Olympic proportion. The Games Organising Committee and all key stakeholders had to keep the surprise including the International Paralympic Committee, Paralympics Ireland and the McKillop family, and it all depended on him winning. In the end, the emotion, surprise and pride on Michael’s face as he watched his mum step up and place the gold around his neck was unforgettable. Liz Kennedy, Brand Manager, P&G Ireland commented, “The global footprint of the Olympic & Paralympic Games is simply incredible. It allowed us at P&G to work alongside not only an elite athlete like Michael McKillop and his mum Catherine but with all the families who supported the Irish Paralympics team every step of the way. But to then be able to create that one stand-out moment with the awarding of the medal by Catherine was the ideal reflection of the love and support from every family we met whose pride for their competing son or daughter was paramount. We are delighted that the international judging panel at the prestigious Cannes Lion Awards has seen this as completely unique and awarded us this Bronze trophy, congratulations to FleishmanHillard, Paralympics Ireland and of course Michael and Catherine McKillop”. London 2012 Paralympic Games, Athletics, Olympic Stadium, Olympic Park, Stratford, London, England. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***“They brought me up to be as good as possible and gave me the same opportunities as everybody else and I think those three, five, six seconds that I embraced my mum that night [in London] will be the best three or six seconds that I have ever spent with my mum because all the hard work that she put into me when I was growing up with a disability paid off when I got to showcase my talents that day.

“I think that was probably my favourite moment of London 2012, forget about crossing the line – yes, that was special – but there’s nothing greater than having the feeling of making someone proud.”1 September 2012; Ireland's Michael McKillop, from Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim, celebrates after winning the men's 800m - T37 final. London 2012 Paralympic Games, Athletics, Olympic Stadium, Olympic Park, Stratford, London, England. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***“It’s a message I like to spread, and I did it before London 2012 by going around schools and educating children on Paralympic sport and showing them that everyone can take part in sport.

“Growing up with a disability doesn’t mean that you can’t do sport, or anything else for that matter. Everybody is different, and we use all the different qualities we each have and knit them together to be the best person that we can be,” he added, before reflecting on a difficult couple of years for him since London that has seen him suffer with injuries.30 October 2015; Ireland's Michael McKillop, right, from Glengormley, Co. Antrim, in action alongside eventual second place finisher Australia's Brad Scott, during the Men's 1500m T37 final, in which he finished first with a time of 4:16.19. IPC Athletics World Championships. Doha, Qatar. Picture credit: Marcus Hartmann / SPORTSFILE *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***“2013 in particular was a difficult time, and between now and then 13 of those months I have been unable to run – I’ve been in a cast or a boot. But where there’s a will there’s a way, I can and will be successful. 

“Unfortunately, even though I’m only 26 years of age, my body doesn’t like to stay fit as much as I like and obviously growing up with a disability and the difference between my left and my right side are some of the reasons for it.

“Hopefully the injuries are behind me now as Rio comes closer, and I can set my sights on trying to retain not just the medal for myself, but for my family and for everyone who has supported me along the way.”

Images: Noel Mullen/SportsFile

“Sport smashes insecurities” – Ellen Keane on the power of sport for Paralympic athletes

Elite Irish athlete Ellen Keane gave a powerful insight into life as a Paralympic star to a packed room in the Irish Embassy in London on Tuesday evening.

The talented swimmer was partaking in a ‘Question and Answer’ session with Paralympics Ireland board member and rugby hero, Gordon D’Arcy, along with fellow athletes Michael McKillop and Jason Smyth, and gave an inspirational and thought-provoking view of life behind the starting blocks.passing the torch“I was really insecure about my arm when I was younger,” she explained. “I used to always wear my sleeves down and I didn’t like to draw attention to it.

“Swimming gave me the confidence to be proud of who I am. With swimming, there’s nowhere to hide, there’s no clothes to cover you. It was just me and my swimsuit.

“Day after day I got into the pool, and my confidence grew and grew. Sport doesn’t allow you to have insecurities, it pushes you to be the best you can be and to do the best you can. Swimming gave me the confidence to follow my dreams,” she reflected, explaining to those in attendance that she is now studying Culinary Arts in DIT.ellen full lenght“I really, really love my course. For me, it was really important that while being disabled, I could prove that I was able. It means a lot to me that I’m able to do this course and to show others that they are able to as well.

“On top of that, the support I have received over the years has been phenomenal, but I also have two amazing supporters in my corner – my parents. They follow me wherever I go, regardless of the competition. They are my greatest supporters.”athletes at embassy“They come to events fully kitted out in Irish gear. Last year, at the World Championships, they wore green suits and became more famous than any of the athletes!” she laughed.

“Being out there and knowing you are representing your country and making them proud is an amazing feeling.”

Images: Noel Mullen

Paralympic Ireland Fans and Supporters – Get Ready for Rio!

Paralympics Ireland is pleased to introduce CoSport as the International Paralympic Committee’s recently appointed Global Authorized Ticket Reseller who will continue its support of the Paralympic Movement through the PyeongChang 2018 and Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

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Selection Criteria for the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games has been updated

The Selection Principles and Criteria Document for the Paralympic Games in Rio this September has been updated with full details of the Appeal process with Just Sport Ireland.

All prospective team members can find the latest version here

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