It has been a very exciting few weeks, starting with Paralympic Ireland’s ‘More Than Sport’ fundraising ball in Dublin in early July. I don’t think Paralympic sport in Ireland ever had an event like it before and it was a fantastic night. Companies came and paid serious money for a table, and there was an auction too where people were bidding thousands of euros. I don’t think the awareness of Paralympic sport would have been big enough before to present an evening like that, so it was really amazing to see people willing to support us like that. They may not even understand the value of that money to our sport but I really hope they do and realise how much their support means to us.
Two former Paralympians - Oliver Murphy and Anne Ebbs – were given special recognition awards on the night. To meet them there, and some other Paralympians that I’d never have met before, also gave me a great sense of community. The night brought the old and the new together and really showcased how far Paralympic sport has come in Ireland.
A few days later our team for Rio was formally announced at an event in Dublin City Hall. Again, to hold it in such a prestigious location, with so much media, showed how Paralympic sport in Ireland has moved on. It was a great event to attend, though I’m sure people in Dublin were wondering what was going on, especially when I was outside doing some photos. One photographer lay in the middle of the street and had me running towards him! People stopped to look and asked questions.
It’s great that the team is officially announced and we can all start focussing now on the real job at hand - which is Rio. The team has 44 athletes and there’s 10 in athletics. It’s actually crazy to think that only three of the athletics’ team have competed at a Paralympics before. But things like talent search events have produced new athletes of high calibre who are now good enough to compete on the world stage. I’ll be expected to win and hope to live up to people’s expectations and Jason will be the same.
But I think there’s athletes, who are unknown to the general Irish public yet, who could possibly win more medals and that’s real development. I think that’s down to James Nolan, the manager of the athletics’ team. He’s a past Olympian himself and knows how hard you have to work to be selected to represent Ireland, whether in European Championships or Paralympics.
The selection policy was tough and tight. You had to be the best and on form to have the honour of representing Ireland and I like that. It’s the same standard that’s in able-bodied sport and James has developed the athletics’ side of our sport the same way. The hard training continues for us all every day.
I raced in the National Championships in Dublin in late June which went well for me and, after that, I had the chance to take my mid-season break. I had a light jogging week first - alternate days of five mile runs - and then I took a complete week off before resuming my final training block for Rio.
The break gave me a chance to go away and forget about athletics. To relax, eat and do what I wanted, and then come back chomping at the bit. I came back really refreshed. Yes, my body’s a bit stiff and sore now again but I think mentally I’m much better for it. It’s just really exciting now to realise that the Paralympics, which start on September 7, are now less than 8 weeks away! It’s just six weeks before I’ll be flying out to our pre-Games base. I like the countdown and the building excitement of it. I won’t like leaving my family and my fiancée behind but there’s an enjoyment factor in tuning up, in knowing that Rio’s coming soon now and that I’ll be going there to do a job and enjoy it.
Michael McKillop (26), from Glengormley, is a three-time Paralympic track champion in the T37 (Cerebral Palsy) category. He won his first, in Beijing 2008, when he was just 18, and completed the 800/1500m double at London 2012. He is also a seven-time IPC world champion and holds the T37 world records of 1:57.19 (800m) and 3:59.53 (800m). A winner of the Wang Youn Dai Award at London 2012 for the athlete that best exemplified the spirit of the Paralympics, Michael has also competed for Ireland in able-bodied athletics and won Irish junior titles at cross-country and 1500m.