The Olympics is one of the special events that can get the nation hooked on sports they previously didn’t care about. All of a sudden your postman can tell you the most effective judo flip or you and your barber are having a heated debate on the best way for an archer to hold a bow. However, this summer was a bit different. For the first time ever, the Paralympics was given a platform almost on a par to that of the games that preceded it.
For DCU student Padraic Moran, the London Games was his second Paralympics competing for Ireland in the sport of Boccia, a version of bowels played by those with Cerebral Palsy. Despite the team not getting out of the group stages, Moran made sure he got the full experience in London.
“We underperformed at the games and that was devastating. It was my second games so initially I wasn’t as excited as I could have been but walking into the stadium for the opening ceremony was something I will never forget. Ireland was sandwiched between Iran and Iraq and it felt like we were on a peace keeping mission. When we finally saw the crowd my jaw dropped. I’ve heard Lansdowne Road and Croke Park being loud but this was something else.”
The increased exposure of the Paralympic Games this summer has transformed athletes like Jason Smyth and Mark Rohan into household names and the Channel 4 advertising campaign of ‘Meet the Superhumans’ has brought the discipline and training of Paralympic athletes to public view, something that Moran feels hasn’t always been the case.
“A lot of people think we just turn up for the event but it’s a full time job. We are elite athletes that are funded by the sports council. Paralympic athletes follow the same structure as the Olympic team. Everyone on this team has a story to tell about obstacles they’ve overcome. We work just as hard as other athletes and the TV coverage did a good job conveying that. The tagline for the games was ‘inspire a generation’ and I’m pretty sure the Irish team was able to inspire the nation over those 12 days.”
The sport of Boccia is divided into classifications depending on your disability level. Moran won a World Championship at BC1 in 2010 but was moved to a BC2, a class for people with less disability before the recent Paralympics, something he feels shouldn’t have happened.
“I got a letter from the governing body of Boccia saying they were changing my classification from B1 to B2. I’m not a B2, I don’t feel I have the same movement as the other B2s but I’m still working on trying to improve in order to compete better in the classification.”
Support was very much on his side for the London Games but four years previous when Padraic made the quarter final, he was very much outnumbered.
“The day before I went to London I was on the stage when Katie Taylor came back to Bray and it just hit me: Jesus Christ the Olympics is finally here. We were training in the Excel Arena where the boxing was held and I remember thinking how crazy it was. In 2008 it was different. The atmosphere for the quarter-final was hostile as I was facing a Chinese athlete. When his name was called out there was screaming but for mine you could probably have seen a tumbleweed pass through the crowd.”
Having competed in two Para ympic Games Moran may seem like a veteran, but at 27 he still has time to compete at future games and, despite the long training hours, he plans to continue.
“My teammates call me the Boccia Baby because I’m the youngest on the team and they say I could have another six Games in me. Being an athlete is my full time job. It’s hard but I don’t see the time spent training as sacrifice because I enjoy it. My class are able to go out on the beer every week and I can’t because of training but as long as I still enjoy competing I’ll continue to do it.”