The sport you enjoy doesn’t have to be the one your best at

My name is Patrick Monahan. I am 33 years of age and from Caragh, just outside Naas in County Kildare. I’m a T7 paraplegic as a result of a road traffic accident in 2007. Before my accident, my passion was Gaelic Football. My passion nowadays is wheelchair racing. I also enjoy rugby, athletics and just being active in general.

#ImInToo : https://caracentre.ie/im-in-too/

Patrick Monahan
Patrick Monahan

My family was always very active. I was playing Gaelic Football and hurling as far back as I remember. I took up athletics at eleven years of age and enjoyed cross country running.  When I turned 17 Gaelic Football became my main focus.  I played Senior Football from 17 right up to two days before sustaining my spinal cord injury and my dad refereed that match. It was a friendly and he put me off for a late tackle! My Dad refereed the All Ireland Football Final in 2006 between Kerry and Tyrone. My Grandad played for Kildare, captaining the seniors whilst still a teenager, he died refereeing a Football match in a few weeks before my birth.

Patrick Monahan

After my accident in 2007 I struggled to find a sport that could challenge me but also that I could enjoy. In the early stages I had come to the conclusion that because I wouldn’t be returning to a GAA pitch, that competitive sport was out of the picture for me. In 2012 I watched David Weir win 4 gold medals in front of 80,000 people, I was captivated. I contacted Mark Barry in the IWA-Sport shortly after and he sorted me with a chair to get started! I did the Dublin Marathon in 2013 for the first time with nowhere near the required preparation, and it nearly killed me. But it got an amazing buzz from that and also a great sense of pride and confidence. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to represent Ireland at the Paralympic Games, European and World Championships. That hasn’t come easy. I train twice daily, six days per week. I could clock up between 200 and 250km per week during the winter. My best achievement to date without a doubt is qualifying for the Rio Paralympic Games with less than 3 years experienced in the sport. I was by far the least experienced competitor in the marathon field. I have also won the Dublin Marathon 4 times, come 2nd in the Dubai Marathon and 5th in Boston to mention a few. My Irish record for the marathon is 1hr 22mins. I hope to keep progressing and represent Ireland next year at the Games in Tokyo.

I love exercising because it gives me an enormous sense of well-being. I feel more energetic throughout the day and sleep better at night. I feel more positive and mentally sharp as a result of exercise. It has also done a lot for my confidence. I travel all around the world, most of the time by myself and I have become very comfortable with that. I have many different friends from all over the world, all with a different story to tell. It is also vital as a wheelchair user to try to keep excessive weight off as it can cause serious difficulties down the line.

But I would have to say confidence has been the biggest boost I have gained from wheelchair racing. I didn’t want to be seen in the race chair when starting out, so my friends were kind enough to take me out to Punchestown racecourse for the first time trying it out. Looking back I struggled with my self-image more than I realised before taking up racing. Now I am very confident and have learned to give myself a pat on the back for even the smallest of accomplishments.

Patrick Monahan

It was probably easier for me as I was 21 when I sustained my spinal cord injury. The only challenge I have experienced is getting the opportunity to try the wheelchair racing back in 2012. This is purely down to resources, race chairs even at entry-level can be expensive and as they are a fixed frame it can be difficult to get one to fit people looking to try for the first time.

I have had nothing but positive experiences. In 2014 I contacted Lisa Dixon of Le Cheile AC and she was kind enough to welcome me to the club with open arms and offer me full access to the track. We now run a training day at the club once per month for both regulars and people looking to give it a try. (Details on Wheelchair Racing Ireland Facebook page).

I think coaches, teachers or instructors need to have a strong understanding of the relevant disability and what that persons not only limitations are, but what their strengths could be. It is vital to try to make them feel involved from the outset.

If I was to give you just one piece of advice, it would be to find some form of exercise that you enjoy, for me, this is very important. Give it a go. There is a sport out there now for everyone and this video is proof! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6Cp_MCes1I

Approach it with an open mind, don’t give up if it doesn’t feel right at first, step outside your comfort zone. The sport you enjoy doesn’t have to be the one your best at.

#ImInToo : People with disabilities should have every opportunity to be active within their local communities. The I’m In Too movement aims to truly capture the voices of people with disabilities, to fully understand and appreciate the impact sport and physical activity has on their lives.