It’s a feeling only a few in a lifetime will encounter. The lights, the crowds of people, and you.
It’s a feeling that Irish para-sailor, John Twomey, will experience after ten consecutive Paralympics. 7th September in Maracana Stadium, Rio, Brazil. He’s seen the lights, he’s seen the crowds, but never has he led his country in the opening ceremony, bearing the tri-colour flag of Ireland.
With just 50 days to go until the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, Paralympics Ireland’s Chef de Mission, Denis Toomey, announced that John has been given the honour of flag bearer for Ireland at the opening ceremony of this year’s Games. “It’s brilliant for me and also for my family, who have supported me every step of the way. This year’s Games will definitely be my last Paralympic Games so it’s a fantastic way to finish off a long and memorable Paralympic career,” said John.
A devoted cyclist as a teenager, John’s life changed when he suffered a serious accident during a youth race. During a county championship time trial, John came around a corner where there was a parked van on what should have been an empty road. He was just 14 at the time, and he broke his neck and his back. A spinal injury means that he is now a wheelchair user, but he hasn’t let it hold him back; in fact, it made him even more determined. “I am a firm believer that you get out of life what you put into it,” said John.
Shortly after the accident, John took up sailing and once he started, he was hooked. “It’s an ideal sport for someone who is disabled. You get out there on the water and you can compete on an equal footing with everyone else. The chair doesn’t matter then,” said John, in an interview with ‘The Southern Star’. Now he’s attending his 11th and final Paralympic Games, and has surely been living a life without limits.
John’s Paralympic CV stretches all the way back to the 1976 Games in Toronto, with highlights coming in Great Britain in 1984 when he won the bronze medal in discus before getting the gold four years later in Seoul. Oh and don’t forget about his silver medal in table tennis that he earned in the Arnhem games in 1980. It was in 2000, however, when John switched his Paralympic focus to sailing ahead of the Sydney Games, and he credits a fierce sense of competitiveness as the reason for his continued success. In fact, John is a record-breaker, as he is the first Irish person to ever compete in either ten Olympics or Paralympics.
Aside from his impressive Paralympic experience, John has served as President of the International Association for Disabled Sailing (IFDS) and competed in multiple IFDS World Championships, the World Cup regatta, and in 2015, was nominee for the Irish Sailing Association (ISA) Afloat Sailor of the Year. As a member of the ISA, John also helped accept the CARA National Inclusion Award on behalf of the organisation for the ‘National Governing Body’ category in 2016.
CARA would like to send our best wishes to John and the entire Irish Paralympic team as they prepare for Rio. We also would like to thank the Irish Sailing Association for continuing to be an example of best practice of inclusion in the arena of disability sport.
Go Ireland and bring home the gold!
CARA would not have been able to produce this blog post without the knowledge, photos, and support from Paralympics Ireland and Sportsfile. Thank you!