From tomorrow (Thursday), Olympic fever will once again grip the world as the Paralympics 2012 kick off in London. For one young woman with strong Longford connections, the event will present her with the opportunity of a lifetime, as she co-hosts the Games for Channel 4 television alongside a very famous athlete.
Daráine Mulvihill (29), daughter of former GAA Director General, Liam who hails from Kenagh, is eagerly awaiting the event and believes that the Irish camp has the potential to bring at least five gold medals home.
Daráine has personal experience of disability, having had both legs amputated below the knee after she contracted a virulent strain of meningitis when she was just 16.
A former member of the Council of State under Mary McAleese’s presidency, Daráine works in children’s TV at RTE, but her paralympic post will bring her to an entirely different audience.
In the Kenagh area, where Daráine’s aunt Bridget teaches in the local national school, members of the Dunboyne woman’s extended family will undoubtedly be glued to their screens.
“I will be working with Channel 4 and presenting with Jonathan Edwards who is a former triple-jump gold medallist and holder of the world record in the event since 1995,” Ms Mulvihill explained to the Leader. “He also worked with the BBC, so I am really looking forward to working with him.”
With such an exciting couple of weeks ahead of her, which of the Irish athletes holds the key to Paralympic success in Ms Mulvihill’s eyes?
“Ireland has 49 athletes at the Paralympics in London and I think that Jason Smyth (25) is the star of the Irish team. He has been referred to as the Usain Bolt of the Paralympics and is regarded as on the fastest sprinters in the world.”
Smyth, who hails from Derry, was the first ever Paralympic athlete to compete in Barcelona in 2010 in the able-bodied European Championships and at the World Athletics Championships in 2011.
“Michael McKillop (22) from Co Antrim is also one to watch out for in the 800m and 1,500m sprint,” Ms Mulvihill added. “He was the first male athlete to break a world record in London’s Olympic stadium and is also the first man to break world records in both the Olympics and the Paralympics.
“Hand cyclist, Westmeath man, Mark Rowan is also tipped for medal glory.
“He is a former U21 footballer for Westmeath and had a very promising football career before he became paralysed following an accident.
“He is already a world champion and I really believe at this stage that the Irish team has the opportunity to bring home five or six gold medals.
“Not only will they have the Irish behind them, they will also have the British as well and this is fantastic to see.”
When Ms Mulvihill was just 16-years-old, she contracted meningitis and was left paralysed.
“My family – my mam and dad and the extended family – and my friends remained very positive at the time and I suppose I picked up on that,” she explained.
““I suppose when you are in a situation that is literally a matter of life and death, you feel really lucky when you come out the other side, so I never really let my disability interfere with my goals or hopes for the future.
“When you deal with things in your own head, you realise that things have a way of working themselves out and that is what happened for me.”