Rio Paralympics 2016 blog: Mark Rohan on the rise of the Paralympians

Mark Rohan, from Ballynahown, near Athlone, is a former Westmeath U21 footballer who was left paralysed, from the chest down, after a road accident in 2001.

Rio Paralympics 2016 blog: Mark Rohan on the rise of the Paralympians

He went on to represent Ireland, initially at wheelchair basketball and tennis, before discovering hand-cycling in 2009 and becoming a three-time H1 world champion in 2010-2011 and a double-Paralympic champion in London 2012. The decision to reclassify him to H3 status in 2014 ended his hopes of being as competitive in Rio 2016 so he retired from competition in October 2015 and is now pursuing a career in the business of sport. Here is his second post.

Since graduating with an MBA in Sports Management from Madrid last month I’ve moved to the UCFB, a sports college based in Wembley Stadium, for a six-week internship. But, in between, I was briefly in Portugal as I recently bought an orange farm in Messines, an agricultural town about 20 minutes’ drive from Albuferia in the Algarve. It hasn’t been lived in for 20 years so it needs a lot of work – it’s definitely a long-term project!

Mark Rohan’s new orange farm in Messines

Mark Rohan’s new orange farm in Messines

The plan is to design an environmentally-friendly sports retreat for high-performance individuals and teams, with a holistic approach. I first went to Portugal in 2011 for a training camp and loved it. I used it as my annual training base from then on. I’d go out every January and live there until May, right up to the start of the season.

This time four years ago I was in the final training phase ahead of London 2012. We’d spent January recceing Brands Hatch so I had a video of the exact course. We took the power file chip out of my bike with all the readings on altitude, pace, and power and downloaded it so I could watch it on TV while training on the turbo, visualising everything that could happen in London.

I imagine the Irish Paralympic team for Rio are doing similar things right now. Paralympic training is very scientific now and I consider Irish Paralympic athletes really lucky because we have access to the exact same resources as our Olympic colleagues. America and GB are similar but it’s not the same for every country.

I was delighted to see so many new faces making Paralympic Ireland’s team for Rio. That, in itself, is a real accomplishment because I know the competition for places, in cycling alone, was extremely close this time. Athletes have made incredible investments, both personally and financially, but only a lucky few have made the squad. Those who didn’t will be really disappointed but I think they should realise how much they’ve benefitted from the journey.

For me to enjoy the journey is just as important, and, when they look back, they’ll see it’s an amazing achievement and they’ll have chances again. A lot can change in four years. As part of my internship here in Wembley I’ve met some high-profile people and Steve McClaren really impressed me. I had the completely wrong impression of him and forgot all about the success he had with Man Utd and Middlesbrough. He’s a really positive, genuine guy and is clearly always looking for a new challenge. He’s certainly not the stereotypical football manager that the media portrayed.

Mark Rohan and classmates pictured with Steve McClaren

Mark Rohan and classmates pictured with Steve McClaren

I have to complete a report before I finish here on August 26 and then I’m headed home to be a panellist for RTÉ Television’s coverage of the Paralympics in September which is being supported by Allianz. I’ll be a bit nervous for sure as that will be very new to me but all I can be is honest.

When I started out I never thought Paralympic sport would get so much coverage but when you get into it you can understand why – it’s because it has such interesting stories. People are fed up with the Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrongs, they want to see more genuine sports stories that they can relate to and, I suppose, seeing people overcoming adversity is another key thing that attracts them.

Mark is an Allianz Sports and Brand Ambassadorand will be writing a monthly blog in the build-up to the 2016 Paralympic Games. Allianz is an official partner to Paralympics Ireland and global partner to the International Paralympics Committee (IPC).

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