Belfast Telegraph

The incredible athlete who defied cerebral palsy to break two world records

By Patrice Dougan

Setting two world records is just another day in the life of a Belfast runner who has used sport to overcome a life-limiting illness.

Michael McKillop celebrated his 21st birthday this week by setting two world records and winning a gold medal at the World Paralympic Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand, |despite battling cerebral palsy along the way.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, proud father Paddy said his son’s world has |always revolved around sport.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 22 months, the family decided sport was a good way to improve Michael’s motor skills.

“As part of his physio we tried to give him every sort of ball — from cricket ball, hurling ball, tennis ball, any ball — to get him to use his two hands, and racquets of every kind to use his hands and to try to improve his right side, so sport is a big part of our lives,” he said.

And he’s not joking — Paddy, a PE teacher at Michael’s former school St Malachy’s College, is also his son’s trainer. His sisters Claire, Sarah and Ciara are all involved in sports, and in his spare time Michael works as a recreation assistant at the University of Ulster.

Paddy said they are “not the type of family” who would have cushioned Michael because of his condition, and instead they have used sport to help him overcome his disability. So much so that he now competes against both able-bodied and paralympic athletes at national and European level.

Paddy added: “At the end of the day Michael is a competitor, it doesn’t matter if he’s going out to play golf with his dad or a simple game of football with his mates, he’s a competitor.

“And it’s the same with running — whether paralympic or able-boded, if you’re lined up beside him he wants to beat you; disability doesn’t come into it as far as he’s concerned. It’s a great attitude to have.”

And his determination has paved a road to success as in sunny Christchurch the birthday boy smashed his previous record — set at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008 — by half-a-second, running the 800m in one minute 58.9 seconds to take gold.

Earlier in the week he ran the 1,500m in a record time of four minutes 14.7 seconds. Paddy said he and wife Catherine are extremely proud of Michael.

“How could a father not be? He’s a double world record holder,” he exclaimed. “We’re very proud, very pleased with what he’s achieved.”

Michael, from Newtownabbey, has been a championship runner since he was 10 years old and in the past five years has made advances with more focused training.

Describing him as being “up with his peers”, Paddy added: “His own drive and determination and the fact that he’s a funded athlete with the Irish Sports Institute, which allows him to train full-time, probably evens out the disadvantage the disability gave him.”

Unfortunately none of his family were able to travel out to New Zealand to cheer him on as he broke the two world records, but no doubt he will be in for a hero’s |welcome when he returns home on Monday.

Background

Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by damage to the motor control centres of the developing brain and can occur during pregnancy, during childbirth or after birth up to about age three.

Limits in movement and posture are often accompanied by disturbances of sensation, depth perception and other sight-based perceptual problems, communication ability, and sometimes even cognition.

CP is often accompanied by secondary musculoskeletal problems.

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