Since graduating with an MBA in Sports Management from Madrid last month I’ve moved to 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!
The plan is to design an environmentally-friendly sports retreat for high performance individuals and teams, with a holistic approach centred around the athlete or individual. 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. My partnership with Allianz in the lead up to the games enabled me to spend time out of the country to prepare to my best ability and always gave me an amazing foundation for the season ahead.
This time four years ago I was in the final training phase ahead of London 2012. We’d spent June 2012 recceing Brands Hatch so I had a video of the exact course I would use on the Paralympic race day. With the help of Alan Swanton from the Irish Institute of Sport and Brian Nugent from Cycling Ireland we took the power files from the session and used the info collected like altitude, pace and power to create a replica of the race day. I watch it over and over again on TV while training on the turbo, visualising everything that could perceivably happen in London and arrived at the start line cool and calm.
I imagine the Irish Paralympic team for Rio are doing similar things right now. Paralympic training is very scientific and cutting edge as each athlete ekes out that extra little bit of performance. I consider Irish Paralympic athletes really lucky and well supported in this area, 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 think Ireland should be proud of its approach when supporting all athlete from various backgrounds.
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 in the long run.
For me to enjoy the journey is just as important, and, when they look back, they can take so much from this experience and hopefully build on it moving forward towards Tokyo. 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, FC Twente and Middlesboro FC. 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.
I have to complete a report before I finish here on August 26 and then I’m headed home to be a panellist for RTE 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 it’s a new challenge that I am looking forward to.
Looking back on Paralympic sport, I never thought the Paralympic Games would get so much coverage, however when you get an insight into the athletes you can understand why – it’s because of the interesting stories. I think people would like to see more genuine sports stories that they can relate to, as the distance and contact between the celebrities of the sporting world is continuing to grow wider with people having less and less in common with them. I would like to wish the Irish Olympic team the very best of luck in the Rio games and I will be watching closely as they compete in the green white and gold.
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. 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.