Paralympic gold medallist tells his incredible life story at South West College

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Paralympic gold medallist tells his incredible life story at South West College thumbnailSouth West College blogger, WOW, met with paralympic gold medalist, Dr Michael McKillop, when he visited the Omagh campus to meet with students.

SOUTH West College was proud to hold a recent 'Morning with Paralympic gold medallist, Dr Michael McKillop, 'The man with no limits'.

Michael visited South West College, Omagh campus, on behalf of the Sky Sports Living for Sport Programme, an initiative for 11 to 18-years-olds, to help build their confidence, work on their goal setting, life challenges and their behaviour.

Amongst the many mentors, there are Olympic and Paralympic athletes, figures from football, boxing and GAA. Michael acknowledged it has already helped so many young people become better people person.

Introducing himself, Michael said: "My story is slightly different to everyone else's. I might be a successful sportsman now, but my journey to get here was different."

He explained that journey began when he had a stroke while still in his mother's womb, which has affected the right hand side of his body leaving it weaker than his left.

Michael had difficulties growing up. He didn't speak until aged three, and though speech therapy helped with this, education proved difficult. However, he explained that his family made sure early on in his childhood that he would have equal opportunities as his sisters and everyone else, sacrificing an awful lot in order to do so.

He said: "My parents used the positives of my disability and never allowed themselves to see the negatives in it."

The year 2004 brought new hurdles to Michael. During a caravan holiday in Wales Michael had an emergency visit to the hospital, where a brain scan discovered a cist growing in his brain and he was diagnosed with epilepsy.

"Epilepsy is the most horrific thing you will experience," he continued. "I have night epilepsy, so it only occurs when I sleep. I have the understanding for the rest of my life that I could go to bed and never wake up. But do I let it stop me? No, everyone has hurdles, and there's someone in life worse off than me."

This is one of the greatest examples of Michael's dedication, determination and fighting spirit that a year on from this diagnosis he was representing Ireland at the European Championships at men's level, aged just 15. A year later he was a Paralympic World Champion and a world record holder.

He said: "I'm lucky to say I represented Ireland as part of the able-bodied squad, and that meant more to me than the Paralympic golds. I may have finished fifty-fourth at the European cross-country championships, but it broke down the perception that disabled people can't compete against able-bodied people.

Michael said that his sporting mentality which has taken him so far to the students, and described how much of it stems from his family. When he was only 18, he went to his first Paralympic games - he went from running in front of 14,000 people to 91,000 people in Beijing. This petrifying, but unforgettable experience enabled him to win a gold medal, and make a world record in becoming the first person to break the two minute barrier for the eight hundred meters.

Michael said: "With 120 metres to go I heard my dad's voice. As my coach he usually says, drive your knees, drive your arms, keep your form; but he just said run, Michael, run. That went against everything he'd taught me; it was the emotion of a dad, not a coach, as he realised what I was going to achieve. He realised that his son was going to be a Paralympic champion."

Michael has had constant support from his family. They enjoyed success together at the London 2012 Olympics, when his mother became the first mum to ever present their child with an Olympic or Paralympic medal. This was a special moment for Michael, he said. It was realisation what team McKillop had achieved, all his hard work and his mum's hard work had got them to the point where he won his Paralympic gold medal in front of her.

Michael has an incredible life story. He takes each day as it comes and treasures his achievements. His dedication and determination have got him to where is now and the tight bond of his family is evident when he is talking to the students. Michael is truly an inspiration to us all to appreciate what we have and so show hard work pays off.


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