Date of Birth: 06/06/89
Age: 29 years old
Lives: Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Disability: Friedreich’s Ataxia
Trainer: Heike Holstein
Occupation: Full time rider
I suffer from a rare disease called Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA). It is a progressive degenerative condition which I was born with but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 13. It causes progressive loss of coordination and muscle strength in the arms and legs leading to full time use of a wheelchair. I had an operation for Scoliosis (curvature of the spine) at the age of 12 and was later diagnosed with FA. At present there is no cure but research is on going and they are making steps towards a cure all time.
I began riding with my friends in school at the age of 10, doing a little bit each weekend in a riding school. Despite my diagnosis at 13 I wasn’t put off riding. Shortly after my diagnosis my mam bought me a pony. Horse riding was the main sport that I was interested in and she felt that it would keep me busy and my mind off the ataxia. At the time we didn’t realize the importance of keeping active in helping to slow down the effects of the ataxia so I was very lucky that I got a pony when I did.
Until. the age of 18, I competed with my local pony and riding club, enjoying dressage, show jumping and cross-country so I got a really broad education and I think it has been invaluable to me. Since then, I have turned to dressage, a safer option given my worsening health. I began to compete at Para-Equestrians events in 2008.
Introduction in Para Dressage
In all Paralympic sport, competitors are classified according to their disability to provide meaningful competition. In equestrian there are five classes, 1a, 1b, II, III, IV, with 1a for riders with the greatest impairments and grade IV for the most able-bodied.
At the time I joined in 2008, I was classified as a grade III, tests were about elementary standard. I got the opportunity to go to a junior international in Millfield, England which opening my eyes to the standard in Para Equestrian Dressage. We rode the Novice test there and Debbie Criddle one of GB most established riders gave a excellent demo. I got on very well there and won the prize for the best international rider. I think that after doing well and seeing the great standard, I was inspired to make a real go for it.
The following year I was re-classified as a grade 1b and in 2010 my classification changed to a 1a. It is since 2010 that I have found my feet with the whole thing
London 2012 Paralympics
I won three medals at the Paralympics in London which is without a doubt my greatest success to date. I was involved with Para Equestrian sport for a little over 4 years when I went to the games. I had only competed at European level before so it was a tremendous honor for me to be going to the Paralympics. It was a huge stage for me to compete on and to come home with three Paralympic medals was a phenomenal experience.