Peter Ryan’s visit to Doon GAA

Under the stewardship of Chairperson Michael Ryan, Doon GAA club were again this year eager to use the quieter months of January and February to promote positive Mental and Physical Health for people in the club and for all who live in the parish.

In January the Club signed up with “Operation Transformation” and “Ireland Lights Up with the GAA”. Every Monday night for 6 weeks the club switched on the Flood lights in the pitch from 7pm to 9pm. Each week over 100 people signed in at the Club house and used the walk track around the pitches to get some exercise. The atmosphere every Monday night was great and it was lovely to see young and old and people of all physical abilities out enjoying the exercise, meeting people and using the facilities available in the parish. The GAA were grateful to the volunteers who attended in the Club house every Monday night to meet people and take their names to record the numbers attending.

In an effort to promote positive Mental Health, on Thursday night February 15th in the Community Centre the Club were delighted to have Peter Ryan come and give a talk to over 100 young people from the parish.

Peter, a native of Upperchurch spoke about how his sporting dreams once revolved around playing hurling for Tipperary at Croke Park.

A talented stick man, a rare genetic disorder robbed him of his sight right at the end of his teens. What followed were some understandably tough years. By his own admission he was a "bitter young man", drinking too much and it wasn’t until a spell in an alcohol treatment centre that he found his way again.

“My life was very simple, once upon a time,” he told the crowd. “Born and bred in Tipp, in the countryside. In Tipperary you played hurling and it just happened that I was handy at it.” Handy enough to be part of the 2008 Tipp minor team, but within 18 months his world was turned upside down.

In early 2010 he notice a few things weren’t quite right, like missing balls he should have caught in training, and he decided he needed to get himself contact lenses.

What he thought was a routine visit to the local optician ended in Waterford A&E, followed by quickly deteriorating eyesight and nearly six months of tests and appointments as he endured an agonising wait for a diagnosis.

Eventually it was nailed down as Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. There are fewer than 20 known cases in the country and one of the few certainties was that he was going to go practically blind.

Hurling, his car and his job as a plasterer were soon to be things of the past.

Ryan kept working as long as he could, until July of that year, but, as he said himself, a building site or a hurling pitch were no place for a lad going blind.

The one part of his old life that he didn’t have to let go of was socialising. And he embraced it for the next two and-a-half years.

“Angry would be putting it mildly. Angry with life. I turned bitter; there’s no point in sugar-coating it.

“I put up a very good front for a long time. I got that diagnosis down in Waterford and I was the only one who wasn’t crying. “My parents were crying and I took it on myself, an unconscious decision, that I was putting up a front. I was always ‘I’m grand’ and ‘I’m fine’. Any time anyone tried to talk to me about it, I was like ‘it is what it is’. I’d ream off these ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ answers.  “I was angry at life. Sport was a huge part of my life and it was taken away from me. “My rationale was to keep socialising, this was one of the few things that I could do the same as the lads. I just had a constant tug-of-war going on. I was becoming a blind person, but I wanted to be the old me. Acceptance was non-existent for me.” Eventually, with the help of a hugely supportive family, Ryan acknowledged that things had to change and 28 days in the Aiséirí Centre in Cahir showed him a glimpse of a future he liked. He hasn’t taken a drink in the years since.

One of the first steps towards rebuilding his life was to re-engage with sport. That started with a trip to UCD for a Paralympics open day in 2012, where a test on a watt bike proved he was a capable cyclist.  That was late December, not long before Christmas, and the following June, Peter was a national champion. He was striving with great determination towards national and world domination in his new found sport. This culminating in he winning a place at the Paralympic Games in Rio in record time.

“Of course, with blind competitors it was a little different. The visually impaired rider sits on the back of a tandem bike with a fully-sighted cyclist on the front” he explained.

Ryan, at the back, is the stoker and Sean Hahessy is the pilot, the two having been paired together via the national para-cycling programme. Hahessy is capable athlete in his own right and the pair had to developed a close relationship on and off the bike.

“It works well; we’ve similar mentalities so that’s good. The dynamic between pilot and stoker is huge,” he noted.

 “I have someone on the front to not let down and vice versa. When you're getting to the harder part of the race, it’s nice to try to do it for someone else as much as yourself.

 As he says himself, the only thing he can’t do now is drive a car.

“I want to race at a high level and win as many accolades as I can. I want to enjoy it while I do it because once upon a time I had no appreciation for what I was doing.

“There was a time when I was a bitter young man. The list of things I couldn’t do was big, but now I’d be of the mindset that I can do anything except drive. It’s a different place and I enjoy it.”

Peter returned to college and he began working with a number of organisations encouraging youths in their endeavours to find a path back from the challenging aspects of modern life.

He spoke about his work as a public speaker for some of the worlds’ leading business and philanthropic organisations on overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges.

The Club were delighted to have Peter share his story, take question and chat to the young people about accepting change, dealing with life’s setbacks, coping with disability and overcoming challenges and ultimately surviving no matter what.

Marie Riordan , GAA Health and Well being Officer.

More GAA