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Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 20 April 2021

'All of a sudden you notice you can't see the puck-out' - Tipperary's Peter Ryan on his road to the Paralympics

The former Tipp minor hurler on losing 90% of his vision at 19, his battle with alcohol and becoming a Paralympian.

AS A CYCLIST, Peter Ryan is well-used to long journeys, but the one he’s taken from the pitches of Tipperary to the world stage is a lot longer than most athletes in their 20s go through. 

Ryan grew up, as many people do, between the hurling, soccer and football fields around his hometown of Thurles.

Talented across the board, he played minor hurling for Tipp and had trials for the national underage soccer teams.

During a challenge match in March 2010, however, Ryan noticed that his sharp edge with the sliotar wasn’t quite there.

‘I threw out the hand and the ball didn’t even hit my hand. It just went one side of it. I thought, ‘that was weird’.

After looking into getting contact lenses, Ryan was diagnosed with a rare condition, Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, that gradually took 90% of his vision from him.

As a 19-year-old, being told that he would lose most of his sight was not an easy thing to hear.

‘There’s no pamphlet on how to become blind.’

‘I had my identity: I was 19. I was cock-of-the-walk, driving a car, playing sports, earning a few pound. I was working on buildings.’

With his eyesight leaving him, Ryan struggled with the transition.

‘It was essentially grief. I was shedding the person that I was.’

‘I was a frightened young lad who was living in his head and pretending to be OK. That manifested itself in a whole host of shit ways.’

Having turned to drink to help cope, Ryan ended up in a treatment centre, which ultimately put him on the path to the Rio Paralympic Games, in a sport in which he had no prior experience. 

Since taking up para-cycling, Peter and his pilot Sean Hahessy have established themselves on the world circuit, and last year completed a 2,157km Race Around Ireland. 

Now as he gears up for Tokyo 2020, Peter Ryan spoke to The42 about his journey, his battle with alcohol, and how sport helped him regain control of his life and happiness.


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About the author:

Eoin Lúc Ó Ceallaigh

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