Limerick paralympian proves disability is no barrier to success

Aine Fitzgerald

Reporter:

Aine Fitzgerald

A LIMERICK athlete who was born with a disability which left him in a wheelchair has spoken out about how he was teased at school because he was “different”.

A LIMERICK athlete who was born with a disability which left him in a wheelchair has spoken out about how he was teased at school because he was “different”.

James McCarthy from Clareview was one of the first speakers on the podium at The Brothers of Charity National Advocacy Conference in Limerick’s Radisson Blu Hotel which was attended by over 250 people last Thursday.

James was there to inspire.

And that he did.

Just last September, James represented Ireland at the Paralympics in London in the shot put.

He ended up in 13th position – just like he did in Atlanta in 1996.

The road to London, while short in distance was long in terms of life challenges.

“I have had struggles myself up through schooling and this is the result of what is inside me and the support that I was getting,” explains the 40-year-old.

“I thought it was just too easy to talk about London so I spoke of how I had problems going through mainstream education – both primary and secondary.”

James was born with a disability which left him in a wheelchair.

“I have known no other life so you just get on with it – that’s what you do,” he says in the lobby of the Ennis Road hotel.

The Brothers of Charity National Advocacy Conference is a platform for people to share ideas and to help people speak up about issues of concern.  

When he was younger, James was teased because he was “different”.

“I was the only guy in a wheelchair at the school so people treat you differently,” he explains.

As he grew older, James became more and more involved in sport. He began winning medals. His confidence grew and the change in how people perceived him was noticeable.

Suddenly, he not only a wheelchair user, he was an athlete. His achievements, coupled with his new found confidence, brought interest from women and envy from men.

“When you get to the age of meeting women suddenly the chat up line is: ‘Oh, I’m an international athlete, as opposed to...So my peers were kind of looking at me going: ‘I wish I was him’.

“That was the first time I remembered people without a disability who would rather have been in my position,” he recalls.

This year’s Brothers of Charity National Advocacy Conference was hosted by the Limerick Regional Advocacy Council of the Brothers of Charity Services Limerick.

The theme of the conference was - I’m here as well, advocacy for all.

The Brothers of Charity Limerick services which cover Limerick city, Newcastle West and Foynes provide a range of different services including a children’s service in Newcastle West, adult services and a range of different programmes through their day service provision.

They cater for 366 adults across Limerick and also cater for 320 children and families through early intervention programmes up to school age, in west Limerick.

They provide community houses in Limerick city, Newcastle West and Foynes.

Most of the time, when people look at others with a disability they generally see what they can not do.

“We see their ability rather than their disability,” said Teresa Ryan, head of quality and new directions, day service provision with Brothers of Charity Limerick Services.

“No matter how disabled a person might be seen to be, they have ability,” she notes.

Like most organisations across the country, the HSE funded Brothers of Charity Service is “stretched” in terms of finance.

They continue however, to develop and expand their services as much as they possibly can.

“We are opening a new day service – it’s called Stewart House. We hope that it will be open in April of next year. This building will be designed in order to provide a better quality of service,” said Teresa from Pallasgreen.

They are also looking at developing satellite services or “a service without walls”.

“In other words, it’s not a generic workshop setting but we would be more about going into the community and looking at the facilities there,” she adds.