By Ray O’Hanlon
Peter Ryan can see the road ahead.
Not literally because he is almost completely sightless.
But in his mind’s eye he knows exactly what he has to do, and how he is going to do it.
The “it” is a place on the Irish team for the Paralympics in Rio next October.
And that road is a journey that’s going to get him there.
The journey isn’t a straight line.
It has diversions along the way, and one of them is taking Peter to New York in a few days for a fundraiser that will help him fulfil his dream.
Peter Ryan is from Thurles, County Tipperary.
At the age of 19, while playing hurling for his county, a rare infection caused him to suddenly lose almost his sight.
He has no forward vision whatsoever and just a remnant of his peripheral vision.
In percentage terms he is ninety percent sightless.
And that can be a problem when your chosen Paralympic event is tandem cycling.
It has been five years since Peter’s visual world began to grow dark, but he has come to terms with his disability.
He is also coming to terms with the demands of his new chosen sport.
Here is Peter’s story in his own words.
“Five years ago I was diagnosed with a condition called Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), which to put it simply took ninety percent of my vision in the space of nine months and changed my life forever.
“Up to that point I had lived a very regular life and things were pretty simple. I had my job, my car. Above all, I was actively involved in all sorts of sports having represented my county, Tipperary, in both hurling and football and had great hopes for the future.
“Since finding my eyesight was deteriorating, in March 2010, it’s fair to say I’ve had to learn a whole new way of living. Today, I am a twenty- four year old with only eight percent vision but with a hundred percent desire to get to the Rio Paralympics.
“I began this journey a little over a year and half ago, having probably lost two and a half years wallowing in self-pity after the initial shock of what had just happened.
“But since I have found Paralympic sport. I have a new sense of empowerment that I thought was gone forever. I have re-discovered the drive and passion that helped me become a successful young sportsman.
“After only a few months cycling, I won a national title breaking the national record. Now I have my sights set on even bigger targets. Since August, my training has taken on a truly professional approach, training six days of the week and in recent months I have really started to see the benefits of this.
“Having participated in three grueling training camps I was selected to represent my country in the world track champions in Holland. This was a huge step in the dream to get to Rio, and having come eighth in the world, the dream of winning in Rio is very much alive.
“This journey has already changed my life so much but it is far from over. Having got this far, I know I can get to Rio. To be honest, though, I don’t want to just get there. I want to push what I can do to the limits and make the most out of this situation.
“To do that I need to up the ante, to train even harder and together with my full-sighted tandem partner, I need to participate in the highest possible level competitions and training camps during the next twelve months.
“This all costs money of course and I simply cannot get to the standard I need to without an injection of finance for the next twelve months. I appreciate that everyone has a story and all families go through their own trials and tribulations but this is my story and it’s far from finished.”
Peter’s six-day-a-week training regimen has already taken him to Rio on a familiarization program. He was recently at work with his tandem partner, his “pilot,” Sean Hahassy from Carrick-on-Suir, in Majorca, Spain.
Peter’s goal is not only to compete but to give himself a chance of medaling.
His footballing and hurling background have given a sprinter’s speed, but he is having to work on his endurance.
The training in Majorca was in a velodrome, a facility that Ireland lacks.
That’s a sore point with Peter. The Irish government had budgeted for such a facility several years ago but spending cuts saw the plan being long fingered.
Obviously a velodrome in Ireland would make training a lot easier for Peter and many others, not to mention cheaper.
The costs of getting Peter and Sean in shape for the Paralympics, and then to the games themselves, are being met in large part by family, friends and the local community.
“I am blessed. I have a good family and local community and they all got behind me early on,” Peter told the Irish Echo in a phone interview from his home in Thurles.
The fundraising effort’s next standout date will be Sunday, November 22 in New York when the “Ryan for Rio, New York Fundraising Committee” will gather at Wolfe Tone’s Pub & Irish Kitchen on 29th Street between Madison and Park in Manhattan from 3 to 10 p.m.
The committee includes familiar names including that of distance runner Tom McGrath, Mike Ryan of the Emerald Guild, and Sean McNeill, President of the Irish Business Organization.
In addition to the fundraiser, donations can be made Indiegogo.com/projects/ryan-for-rio-new-york, or by check made payable to: Peter Ryan Fund, C/O Michael Ryan, 301 Palmer Road, Yonkers, NY 10701. More details at (212)390-1688 or (914)720-7410.