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'I've found myself in dark places at times, trying to live up to people's expectations'

Michael McKillop is the subject of Paralympic Ireland’s ‘More Than Sport’ video series.

THREE-TIME PARALYMPIC GOLD medallist Michael McKillop admits he’s found himself in dark places trying to live up to people’s expectations.

Michael McKillop displays his medal McKillop displays his medal on his return home from the European Championships in 2014. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

The 26-year-old from Antrim, who suffers from cerebral palsy, won gold in the 800m T37 event in Beijing and London as well as the 1500m four years ago.

With his third Olympic Games just around the corner, McKillop is the subject of Paralympic Ireland’s second installment in their ‘More Than Sport’ video series.

In a candid interview, the athlete reveals how he was bullied in the playground because of his physical disability and the added pressure success brings.

“Life has never been normal for me growing up as a Paralympic medallist,” he said.

“From the young age of 16 I have been expected to live my life as a world class athlete, I missed out on opportunities and experiences that every teenager usually experiences.

“With this I have found myself in dark places at times, trying to live up to people’s expectations. But with the support of friends, family, my coaches and most importantly Nicole my girlfriend, I have got through this.

Source: paralympicsire/YouTube

“Growing up with a physical disability was tough as it was visible to the public. I stood out. I was different to all the other kids. Yes, I was picked on at times, but I didn’t allow those words to affect the way I lived.

“I realized after a while that everybody is different and I should be proud to be who I am and own my disability.

“Today, I hold my head up high when I introduce myself as a Paralympic athlete. I am extremely proud to be competing at an elite level for my country.”

One of the abiding images from London 2012 was the moment when McKillop was presented with his gold medal by his mother.

“I never expected anything like that to happen during one of my medal ceremonies, when she walked out it put a massive smile on my face and made my heart beat a little faster,” he says of that moment.

“When she put the medal around my neck, I gave her a big hug it was a moment of reflection and relief.

Michael McKillop celebrates winning gold McKillop celebrates his 1500m win in London. Source: Inpho

“Through all of my mum’s hard work while I was growing up and my hours spent training, it was in that moment that we proved to the world that with belief and determination, you can achieve anything. I may also had shed a little tear.”

And with just a few months until Rio, how are McKillop’s preparations going?

“Things are currently going very well, me and my team have all the niggles under control and we are being consistent with my training.

“Crossing the line in Doha at last year’s IPC World Championships, I showed to the world and the people in my category that even though it had been one of the toughest years training and injury wise for me, I could still perform under pressure and still be the best athlete I can be.”

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Ryan Bailey

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