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Damien Moyles – Sprinting to Success

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By Damien Moyles

My name is Damien Moyles, and I’m a sixteen-year-old T13 para-athlete from Co. Mayo. Being a T13 para-athlete means I compete in track events and have a vision impairment. I live in Crossmolina in North Mayo. I was born with a condition called Albinism, which means that I have no pigmentation in my skin and causes sensitivity to light as I am unable to filter out light from my eyes. I also have Nystagmus, which is an inability to control the movement of my eyes which can make it hard to focus my vision properly. My passion for sports has always been strong and I have always tried extra hard to participate in team sports recognising the importance of sports as a social outlet for people my age, however I found it hard to track the fast movements of others and whatever else was around me. This is why athletics was such an attractive option as a sport for me as it was an individual sport where all I had to focus on was myself.

I became involved in athletics through Vision Sport Ireland and my school athletics team. I’m a Vision Sports Ireland member and by attending events like Camp Abilities at the University of Limerick’s sports campus, I have discovered a passion for the sport due to its accessibility for athletes with a vision-impairment. I represent my school Jesus and Mary Secondary School Gortnor Abbey Crossmolina at athletics events with particular encouragement from my teacher and mentor Hillary Lyons who has been exceptionally supportive and helpful to me through my athletics journey. This has played a big role in me joining up with my local club.

My local club, Moy Valley Athletics Club, has been incredibly supportive, never seeing my vision impairment as a barrier to participation. They’ve actively encouraged me to participate in all kinds of events. They consistently work with me to help me achieve my potential and make entry to events and training as accessible as possible for me.

Attending events like the Future Stars Para-Athletics event and the Diversity Games have been eye-opening experiences, providing me with opportunities to compete against other impaired athletes in a supportive environment. I found the event to be well-run and would highly recommend it to anyone.

Just over one year ago, I was introduced to my coach Dermot McDermott who has been hugely supportive and who has worked tirelessly and moved mountains to make me perform to the best of my ability. His knowledge and expertise has helped me to improve tremendously as an athlete. Dermot holds multiple sessions a week in Sligo where I train along with a number of other incredible athletes who I’ve built great friendships with and who I can have the craic around. The sessions in Sligo push me on as there is a great calibre of athletes who provide me with a welcome challenge and I feel that training as part of this group has accelerated my progression indefinitely and under Dermot’s clever guidance and with his rational and nurturing approach, I feel that I have excelled in both my training and in my performance.

Recently I attended a two-week warm weather training camp out in Portugal with Dermott and the others from Sligo. I had a great time and made significant improvements in relation to my athletics during my time in Portugal, however I also enjoyed the social side of our trip where I met some amazing people and achieved some extra independence as it was my first time being alone without family in a foreign country. I learned many life skills in Portugal which will stay with me. Overall my experience in Portugal was exceptional. I am so lucky to have been able to take part and am so thankful to everyone involved.

My club Moy Valley Athletics Club has made adaptations to ensure that training sessions and events are accessible to athletes with vision impairments like me. They’ve been proactive in removing barriers to participation. For example, coaches have been very accommodating to me by showing me the mechanics of certain movements up close during training in order to provide me with a better understanding of the technical aspects of athletics.

My advice to clubs and coaches new to para-athletics is to approach it with an open mind, be welcoming of para-athletes joining your clubs and have a willingness to adapt, not taking disability to mean inability. Providing inclusive opportunities and support can make a world of difference to athletes with disabilities. Participating in mainstream athletics championships, such as the County, Regional, and All-Ireland championships and also Track and Field Live events have been pivotal in my development as an athlete. These competitions have motivated me to push myself further and strive for excellence on the track. That is why I believe that it is especially important for para-athletes to compete in mainstream championships as even though it can be frustrating to race against athletes who are not impaired, it provides us with good competition and can help us to develop aspirations and goals for our future.

Additionally, I’ve attended a number of Webinars as part of the Para-Athletics Webinar Series. These webinars were useful and informative and gave me a sense of what’s to come for me in the future as a para-athlete but also of what para-athletics is and how it functions. I would highly recommend webinars like these to anyone with an interest in para-athletics because they are really engaging and provide each participant with an excellent understanding of para-athletics. Additionally these webinars have been brilliant and all of the hosts and guest speakers were very open to questions which I liked. I think attending these webinars as well as other further training opportunities for para-athletes through Vision Sports Ireland and Active Disability Ireland really help to get an understanding of how coaches can help a para-athlete.

One of my greatest achievements so far was being invited to the Connacht Performance Squad after placing second in the Connacht Championships. It was a validation of my hard work and dedication to the sport.

I would like to see more information around para-athletics and clearer pathways for para-athletes in Ireland and to have more opportunities to receive measurable data on how our journeys as para-athletes are progressing.

Training six days a week across various facilities, including track sessions and gym workouts, has been instrumental in my progress as an athlete. Racing frequently has provided invaluable experience and opportunities for improvement, regardless of where I place in an event I aim to improve on my own times in every event.

I have recently attended the first of the Paralympics Ireland Academy Try-out days. These Try-out days provided me with the excellent opportunity to gain insight from top coaches and to have access to data on my metrics such as my RSI (relative strength index), jump height, standing broad jump distance and velocity at 10m/s.

This data allows me to track my progression and see tangible results following the work I do on the track and in the gym. This information is hugely informative to me as a para-athlete who has a vision impairment as it allows me to separate myself from where I place in mainstream athletics events and focus on progressing both with my times on the track and my performance in the above tests.

With lots more training and working on these aspects of my performance I hope to get accepted into the Paralympics Ireland Academy later on this year.

My advice to any young person interested in athletics is to embrace the journey regardless of any challenges they may face. Attend as many events as possible in both the para and mainstream categories and do not take disability to mean inability. Athletics has provided me with a great sporting and social outlet but also opportunities for personal growth and improvement. Don’t let obstacles deter you from pursuing your passion for sport!

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