Gary O’Reilly is a 25 year old paracyclist. On the 14th of March 2014, he had an accident which left him paralysed from the waist down. He spent the next year learning how to walk through intense physiotherapy and rehab.
Gary talks about the significant impact sport has had on his life since his accident and the way it has enabled him to recover from his life altering event. This year Gary has competed in international competitions including the European Handcycling Federation race in Rosenau where he placed 3rd in the H5 category. He also went to Emmen, Holland for The U.C.I Para World Cup where he was part of the Irish development squad, where he placed 11th.
How did you get active and why?
“During my time in the National rehabilitation hospital, I became involved in some wheelchair sports, including wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby. I found these very beneficial for both my mental and physical improvement. Although I was partaking in alot of different sporting activities, I had started to gain a lot of weight after my accident. In April 2016, almost two years after my accident, I weighed 128kgs. I couldn’t believe it and I decided something needed to change and fast. I wanted to get fitter and healthier”.
What can make participating in sport/physical activity difficult?
“Ironically, weight! I had an interest in trying handcyling and trialed a recumbent hand cycle but I found very difficult due to my weight.
Although I was partaking in alot of different sporting activities, I had started to gain a lot of weight after my accident. In April 2016, almost two years after my accident, I weighed 128kgs. I couldn’t believe it and I decided something needed to change and fast. I wanted to get fitter and healthier.
I was keen to pursue my interest in cycling, so I contacted the Irish Wheelchair Association who kindly loaned me a kneeling handcycle. Though at first a struggle, I found a passion in cycling and through cycling and diet I have lost 54kgs”.
If you met someone who had never taken part in anything before, what would you tell them?
“Pick a sport you have an interest in and then try different associations like sports partnerships which are nationwide or local clubs or colleges may be able to get you involved in your desired activity. It might not be easy at the start but stick with it, for at least three months because trust me the plus’ definetely outway the minus’s”.
Exercise helps prevent secondary conditions of paralysis such as heart disease, diabetes, pressure sores, carpal tunnel syndrome, obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, urinary tract infections and respiratory disease. Physical activity does not need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits. You don’t have to be an athlete. Significant health benefits can be obtained with a moderate amount of physical activity, preferably daily”.
Why would you tell them to start?
“In every way, exercise has enhanced my health and quality of life;
through cycling I got stronger, built endurance and stamina, my joints became loose and flexible, my stress levels reduced, I started to sleep more restfully and to feel better in general due to a more positive attitude. My new improved cardiovascular fitness meant I was less fatigued and as a result my independence improved. The value independence plays in our lives can only be fully appreciated when you comprehend how slowly it is achieved and how quickly it can be taken away”.
Have you taken part in any competitions to date?
“In September 2017, I took part in my first time trial in Athlone, placing third in my class. Since then I have taken part in numerous national time trials. Most recent of which was Sligo in June 2018 where I placed 2nd in the National championship handcycling time trial. This year I competed in two international competitions. I placed 3rd in the H5 category in the European Handcycling Federation race in Rosenau and I also went to Emmen, Holland for The U.C.I Para World Cup where I was part of the Irish development squad which was an amazing feeling of achievement. There I placed 11th overall”.
In August of this year Garys new handcycle, a custom built carbon fibre bike from carbon bikes U.S.A arrived. With the arrival of his new bike and with guidance from a cycling coach, Gary hopes to be selected for the Irish elite squad to compete in world championships.
What would be a top sporting goal for the future?
“In time, I hope to be selected for the Paralympics, that would be te ultimate sporting goal for myself in the next five years”.
We wish Gary continued sporting success and we have no doubt he will continue to make phenomenal achievements like those he has made to date!!