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‘My life didn’t change after London. I had to go back to the real world and I’d no problem with that'

Four years on from double Paralympic gold, Mark Rohan now leads a very different life as he begins the next chapter in his career.

Image: Sport the library

IT WASN’T SO much that Mark Rohan planned to call a halt to his cycling career, it just happened. Life, and the sport, simply moved on and he didn’t want to be left behind.

He could still easily be in Rio this week preparing for his second Paralympic Games, ready to defend the two titles he sensationally won four years ago, but that’s not the life he leads anymore.

After a brief, but hugely successful, time at the top, Rohan stepped away from professional sport a little over 12 months ago to pursue other opportunities and begin the next chapter in his career.

Although it wasn’t something he spent much time deliberating, a number of factors ultimately led him to make the decision.

After being reclassified to H3, the emergence of a new generation of cyclists were raising the standards within the game. He just felt it was the right time to call it a day.

“I wanted to start college so I had it at the back of my mind,” Rohan tells The42. “From a cycling point of view, I was starting to get beaten by these Italian and American guys that had come along.

“It wasn’t that I was giving up because I wasn’t winning all the time anymore but I just didn’t feel I was going to be competitive enough. Realistically I was racing for bronze at best because I was never going to compete for gold or silver. I could have struggled on but I just knew deep down I couldn’t match them physically.

“I had achieved a lot and wanted to go to college and start my own business so it was perfect timing to start afresh doing something different to the last six years.”

London Paralympic Games - Day 8 Source: Gareth Fuller

Irish Olympians return Source: Julien Behal

A matter of weeks later, Rohan was commencing a Masters degree in Sports Management in Madrid. The initial period after retirement can often be a difficult time for professional sportspeople as they enter the real world, searching for a new direction and purpose.

But Rohan embraced the next challenge rather than feared it.

“I know a lot of guys who have struggled when they’re done,” he continues. “It’s not easy but I just knew what I wanted. I had made this decision to retire and I was at ease with it. Going to Spain was another challenge in a new city.

“I was very lucky. Guys can get lost and fall into that trap of depression and trying to figure out what it was all about. I was fortunate it worked out.

“I think that’s also because I never put much important on cycling. I came into it when I was 29 so I’d been and lived in the real world so to speak. I wasn’t one of these child prodigies who was on the radar from the age of six or whatever.

“I wasn’t too upset about finishing because I knew what I wanted to do.”

After graduating in Spain, Rohan has since moved back to his home in London where he is currently searching for a job. The dream is to set up his own sports treat in Portugal for professional athletes.

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That project is still quite some time away from fruition so for now the reality, even as a double Paralympic gold medallist, is that he requires employment to pay the bills.

“I wouldn’t say my life has changed much since London,” he explains. “At the time it’s great for promotion, you can get the message out. You can overcome adversity but after that, to be honest, Paralympics is small.

“A Dublin football match between Kilmacud and St Vincent’s would get more coverage than a Paralympic athlete. I’ve no problem with that whatsoever but my life didn’t change much at all after London.

London Paralympic Games - Day 7

Katie Taylor and Mark Rohan Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“The last real job I had was before I decided to go cycling full-time with the ESB in 2009.

“I want to start my own business and I’m in the process of that. Having competed for a number of years and travelled and stayed in hotels around the world, I can take on that knowledge and make something that can be advantageous to athletes and high performance units.”

Although Rohan wants to remain very much in sport, he has enjoyed taking a step back over recent months and abandoning the strict lifestyle required to be competitive at the top level.

The Westmeath native, who is paralysed from the chest down after a serious road accident in 2001, has been on his bike just once since Christmas and while he’ll miss the competitive nature of competition, he admits there is no burning desire to be in Rio this week.

“You must be joking me,” he says laughing, when asked whether he would like to be doing it all again. “No thanks. I am fully retired now. I’ve taken a step back from power and hard racing and body fat and trying to get every second right.

“I’m sure watching it will rekindle good memories, of course it will. The whole London experience was unforgettable and the homecoming was extraordinary. More daunting than anything.

“It was just great to see people happy over something you did. It’s just great to give something back for all the support you get and you’ll never beat that feeling.

“I was always into sport so I knew what it meant. I was playing football before the accident, sport was my life, so I knew what winning means. It was a natural progression to go into cycling, the pieces fell into place.

“For that reason I’m pretty open minded about the future. It’s worked out pretty well for me so far.”

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The Paralympic Games takes place between 7 and 18 September. Follow The42′s coverage from Rio here.

About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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