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17th Aug 2018

Former Tipp hurler to cycle 2,100 kilometres to raise funds for sick children

Jack O'Toole

Peter Ryan may be legally blind but he can still spot a great cause when it’s there.

The former Tipperary minor hurler recently returned from the 2018 UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships in Italy earlier this month to begin ramping up his preparations for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo after representing Ireland at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

The 2020 games is not an event that Ryan would have targeted as a youth, he had ambitions to play Croke Park and contest an All-Ireland final, but he contracted Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy at 19, a rare genetic condition that struck without warning and reduced his vision by 80%.

Hurling became increasingly difficult for him, work at a local fabrication company did too, but a deep dive into drinking was easier for him.

In his own words: “I got into this really weird place where drinking was my only bit of solace, my own parity with my mates.”

He became resentful watching his brothers play hurling, mainly because they were out there playing while he watched on from the sidelines.

He was grateful for the support of work because it gave him 50 hours a week where he didn’t have to contemplate what the future would hold for him, but drinking, or socialising, was an activity that still tied him to his old life where he could still be one of the lads.

Ryan armoured himself with sayings like ‘it is what it is’ and ‘you know yourself’ when he knew that it wasn’t what it was and that he had Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. It was far from a case of ‘it is what it is’.

He admits that he ‘socialised’ to the point where he became anti-social and at the age of 22 he went into the Aiséirí Centre in Cahir, a centre that provides evidence-based Detoxification, Treatment and Rehabilitation Programmes for adults and adolescents suffering from addiction.

Ryan claims that it was the best decision that he ever made. Through the centre, his friends and his family, he stopped digging a hole to destruction and found cycling as an avenue to rehabilitation.

He missed the endorphins and the social aspects that sport provided in his life so he went on a trip to UCD for a Paralympics Open Day in 2012, where he undertook a test on a watt bike.

“I went up to the Paralympic open day as a way of getting back into sports, it was as simple as that,” said Ryan.

“There’s the endorphins, the social impacts, there’s so many fringe benefits of sport that weren’t even competing. However, when I got back into sport I realised there was a competitor in me so I won a national title pretty early doors and then the scene just started taking on a life of itself.

“Before I knew it I got a call up and I was going to international competition. It wasn’t all conscientious thought, life was just getting progressively better.

“I went out to a couple of international races and I had no problems but I was just getting the shit kicked out of me and then it started making sense; no one wants anything in life that comes easy.”

It’s never been an easy ride for Ryan who paired up with Sean Hahessy to form a tandem bike duo that would take them to national championships, world championships and the Paralympics.

Ryan and Hahessy will progressively step up their preparations for the Paralympics over the next year but they will first take on a Trim to Trim challenge where they will set off on a 2,100km anti-clockwise journey of Ireland to raise funds for the Doran and the Gleeson families from Tipperary.

Nichola Skeehan and James Doran and their baby Mikey, as well as Catherine and John Gleeson and their children Helen and Sean, have been making regular trips up to the National Children’s Hospital in Crumlin for their kids to receive treatment.

Helen has had to have modified operations to correct her spine after she had a tumor removed, her brother Sean had cardiomyopathy while Mikey has to receive a bone marrow transplant.

“They’ve been really touched,” said Ryan of the Gleeson and Doran families.

“Even when they came over we didn’t know anything about them. Living in rural Ireland everyone knows everyone without actually knowing them but I didn’t know the two parents.

“My brother would have played against Johnny [Gleeson] quite a lot in the GAA realm. They’re literally 10 to 12 kilometres from where we’re from.

“There’s all these small little connections but they’re just touched by the fact that people want to help them. It’s rare what is going on and it’s sad to see.

“Even the Facebook page donations are flowing in. We’re over €21,000 on the Facebook page. It has me absolutely gobsmacked, just the power of it.

“All these people, we’re all just helping each other and that’s all this is. Granted, I got a notion there once upon a time that I wanted to help the two families and there’s so many people that have helped me over the last few years, there’s people helping us help them, it’s snowballed and it’s really cool to be involved in it.”

Ryan relied on family and friends when he was at his lowest and now he’s going to try and cycle 2100 kilometres in 120 hours to help a family he really didn’t know before hearing of their hardship and difficulties earlier this summer.

Just like his career in cycling, and indeed his own life, it’s always a little easier when you have someone there to help you along the way.

To contact or donate to Peter Ryan’s Race Around Ireland you can do so by visiting the event’s Facebook page here.

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