Paralympian back on the open sea for championship

An elite sailor who gave up competitive sailing after the 2008 Paralympics to concentrate on family life has dusted down his old vessel to compete again.

After a near-personal tragedy in the run-up to the games in Qingdao, Paul McCarthy, from Kinsale in Co Cork, dry-docked his boat to focus on his personal life.

But now, the father of two is back on the water with the backing of his wife Lesley and two children, Sophie, 3, and 19-month-old George.

He is among hundreds of sailors with various disabilities from around the world competing in the Cork County Council IFDS World Championships taking place in Kinsale until Friday. It is the biggest disabled sailing event since the London Paralympics.

“After all that happened in the run-up to Qingdao, we just decided to store the boat and concentrate on our personal lives,” Paul said.

“And the culmination of that was seeing my wife Lesley and children holding a homemade sign saying ‘Good Luck Daddy’ at the opening ceremony in Kinsale at the weekend.”

Paul got his first taste of sailing thanks to his cousin, Denis Kiely, but he preferred the exhilaration of motorbike racing.

He competed in short circuit and road races before he suffered a devastating spinal injury in a crash in Mondello Park in 1991. He has been using a wheelchair ever since.

Within three years, Paul was sailing again in Kinsale Yacht Club on Challengers and Squibs, before he joined legendary paralympic sailor John Twomey in a bid to qualify for the 2000 Sydney games.

They finished ninth in those games and parted company soon afterwards.

Paul bought his own boat with Paul Ryan and Richard Whealey, and the trio set their sights on the Athens games.

However, John Twomey made the country qualification.

“It has always been about being competitive so I decided to continue and try for qualification in Qingdao,” Paul said.

In early 2008, Paul and his crew qualified for the Chinese games by coming third at the Olympic class regatta in Miami — the highlight of his sailing career.

But soon afterwards, his wife, Lesley, suffered a sudden a brain aneurysm. Then his crewman, Paul Ryan, fell ill.

“My wife has always been hugely supportive of my sailing career and although she was seriously ill, she was still anxious that I travel to Qingdao for the practice regatta,” Paul said.

“My mother-in-law insisted that I travel so just two days after Lesley was discharged from hospital I flew to Qingdao.”

Despite his illness, Paul Ryan also travelled to China with strict medical instructions to return home if his condition worsened.

The team finished ninth — a great result after all they had endured.

Paul has spent the last few years focusing on family life and helping to raise his children.

But when Kinsale secured the World Paralympic Championships, the lure of competitive sailing was too strong to resist.

Just three weeks ago, Paul and his crew of Paul Ryan and Barry O’Mahoney took their moss-covered Sonar boat out of storage.

With the help of Kinsale Boat Yard and O’Mahoney Sails, they got it ship-shape and back on the water.

Despite the lack of preparation, they finished second in the practice race on Monday.

They are aiming for a top 10 finish in their class.

“Realistically we cannot expect to do any better,” Paul said.

“All the other boats are only one or two years old and all the London 2012 medallists are here. If we do any better I have a problem as I will have to start thinking about Rio 2016.”

The sailing continues until Friday.

* www.ifdsworlds2013.com


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