It's been a rollercoaster of a ride for Luke Evans, but it's been well worth the trip
2016 is a very special year for Irish CP Football team captain, Luke Evans. Not only has the squad qualified for the Paralympic Games in Rio later this year, but their journey towards the Games is that bit more special having missed out on qualification for London 2012.
For Evans, the road from Beijing to Rio has been one with many highs and lows, from the heartbreak of missing London to the determination to qualify and succeed for Rio.
Now, with just 100 days to go until the Games kick off, we caught up with him to hear how this year’s Games is so much more than sport for Luke and the squad: it’s hard work, dedication and a firm belief in a squad of talented players, who have come through the worse to rise up and be counted once more.
“From as early as I can remember, there was always a huge interest in football at home. My Dad is my biggest inspiration when it comes to the game – though not just in football but in life in general,” he began. “My mother’s friend mentioned it to her one day by chance that there was a Paralympic squad. I was about 11 or 12 at the time, and we looked into it then and the rest, as they say, is history!"
“At a young age - like many kids - my dream was to represent Ireland playing football. When I got a little bit older and the realisation of my disability set in, I knew then that this dream wasn’t a real possibility. Finding CP Football and the Paralympics has allowed me to realise that dream and I’m very grateful for that,” he reflected.
“The minute I got involved with the Paralympics I knew this was where I wanted to be. I knew this was a chance to represent Ireland playing football on the world stage. Right from the start I was determined and committed to give it 100%.
“That’s why the More Than Sport campaign means a lot to me this year. For me, these words symbolise that representing Ireland is not just about training and competing. It’s about the passion and pride that comes with it. I’m extremely proud to be captain of the team. It’s a huge honour to lead your country and I’m really grateful for the opportunity
“Representing my country means the world to me, like I said, I get the opportunity to live out one of my childhood dreams and winning a bronze medal at European Championships in 2010 was definitely one of the major highlights to date.
“For me what separates the champions from the rest is how tough they are mentally. They can overcome any obstacle and adapt easily to change. Being strong mentally is vital in my opinion and getting to be involved in sport means the world to me.
“It hasn’t always been easy though, everyone faces criticism at some stage, but it’s how you react to that criticism that’s important. Reacting positively and with hard work is the way to overcome it.”
Looking ahead to Rio, where the squad will face Ukraine, Brazil and Great Britain in their group games, he continued:
“Our preparations for the Games are going really well. I feel there is a good understanding across the team of what is required to succeed in Rio.
“I thought we did okay at the recent pre-Paralympic tournament in Spain. Out of the five games we played, we won three and lost two. In both losses I felt we were well in the game and they could have gone either way. It is important we learn from our mistakes and correct them for Rio.
“A big part of that tournament was the support we received at our games. I’d really like to thank all of the Irish people who were on their holidays over there and came out to watch the games; the support we received was brilliant and it really meant a lot to the whole team.
“We know we need to be mentally and physically ready for Rio though. It’s a tough group, there is no point pretending it’s not. But the reality it is, if we want to win the competition we have to beat the best teams. So why not do it in the group?” he stated.
“It’s been a rollercoaster of a journey to get to here. Looking back, one of the biggest moments for me in my career so far, would probably be scoring the goal in the 2015 World championships, which secured our qualification for Rio 2016. If you go back further though, the devastation on missing out on London 2012 is something I wish I could go back and change.
“Now though, all roads lead to Rio and I’m incredibly lucky that my friends & family are hugely supportive. Since the beginning, they have been very understanding when it comes to the decisions and choices I make. I’m very grateful for all their support.
“And as the days countdown we just have to remember, there is no such thing as can’t, only won’t.
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