BY JJ HURLEY
HE represented Ireland at 11 Paralympic Games, even winning gold in Seoul in 1988, and now John Twomey is ready for his next challenge.
The Ballinhassig man was recently elected as President of Irish Sailing at its AGM in Dublin and has described his elevation to the position as ‘a big honour for my family and me’.
Taking up the role for three years, Twomey has already set out several goals, including implementing the 2020/2025 Strategic Plan, growing inclusion in sailing as a sport for all, increasing community participation and improving opportunities for women in sailing.
It's not surprising that Twomey should champion those sections of society who often have to overcome difficult hurdles regarding sports participation, as he has witnessed himself first-hand.
A promising cyclist in the early 1970s, his career was cut short when a cycling accident left him paralysed, but it did not prevent him from having an extremely successful sporting career.
'I love to compete, I am not afraid of hard work and I like to succeed,’ he explained.
For those facing their challenges, Twomey advises, ‘look ahead, not backwards; your enjoyment of life is determined by your input into and working at your life aspirations.’
His interest in the Paralympic Games began following his rehab at the National Rehabilitation Hospital at Dun Laoghaire. Making his first appearance at the 1976 Paralympics in Montreal, he picked up his first medal, a bronze in the discus, at Los Angeles in '84, and a gold at the same event followed in Seoul in 1988.
Of course, the Games have come a long way since he first participated.
‘The recognition of the Paralympics and Paralympic athletes is now becoming a reality, and the commercial world is recognising that people appreciate great sporting achievements,’ Twomey said.
Following his exploits in track and field, he changed sports and competed in the sailing event at the Games in Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London and Rio.
It’s a sport he came to as a result of working in Kinsale and joining Kinsale Yacht Club, where he's been an active member as treasurer, secretary, rear commodore, vice commodore and commodore.
In addition to his involvement with Kinsale Yacht Club, Twomey has also played a central role in several of the town's twinings, with Kinsale's friendship with Newport, Rhode Island, the envy of many other towns.
He was elected as the president of the International Federation of Disabled Sailors in 2012 and, a year later, brought the world disabled sailing championship to his home port.
In 2014, he played a pivotal role in unifying the two world disabled sailing organisations, IFDS and ISAF, into the joint body: World Sailing.
Having a great passion for sailing, he describes the sport as a great leveller.
'I do all my competitive sailing in Ireland in able-bodied fleets,’ he said.
When asked if the sport of sailing is prohibited to those with disabilities, Twomey said, ’Sport Ireland has a great support programme for all sports and has a big focus on inclusion of all disabilities.’
With a growing interest in the sport, he expressed his opinion that the government's decision to pull the plug on the bid for the America's Cup ‘was a great disappointment and a great commercial and tourism loss to the Munster region’.
However, the Ballinhassig resident will not have time to dwell on that decision as he gets to work on his busy schedule.