2012 Paralympic Games

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If the excellent 2012 Olympic Games are anything to go by , London will run an excellent Paralympic Games , starting in just a few short hours . I know Kinsale sailor John Twomey , who with his crew of Anthony Hegarty and Ian Costelloe are flying the flag for Ireland in the Sailing Competition . This isn’t John’s first Paralympic games – it is his 10th ! Great article about John ( here ) . I have raced with John on occasion and would suggest he’s one to watch over the coming days . 

The story of the Paralympic Games is a fascinating one . Founded by Sir Ludwig Guttmann , a jewish neurosurgeon who fled Nazi Germany , the games have grown since Sir Ludwig organised an archery competition for 16 spinal injury patients in a British hospital in 1948 . I’m not sure if that event in 1948 was officially called “Paralympic Games” but it’s an interesting coincidence that , today , more than 4000 athletes will compete in these games , again in London . There’s an excellent article with this story ( here ) .

I was a very small part of the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta , Georgia , as coach for the sailing team . 

ImageI recall the games very well . Ireland was in the height of sporting ecstasy celebrating the performance of our swimmer Michelle Smith (later De Bruin) who won a number of gold and silver medals in the Olympic games just a few weeks earlier. She is rarely discussed now but at the time , little else was talked about . It’s an interesting aside that , when discussing Ireland’s Olympic past , she is only referred to in passing !

We arrived in Atlanta about 4 weeks after the Olympics to the incredible heat and humidity of an Atlanta summer . We had previously spent a week in Jacksonville training and acclimatising in preparation for the games . Most spectators only see sporting competitors at the main event – we sometimes don’t realise the years of application , dedication , setbacks , bounce-backs , pain , tears and disappointments that precede the games . For years before the Paralympics , the team worked to get used to their boat , their equipment , their team-mates , variable conditions . They refined their techniques , perfected their equipment , worked on their ability to get around the boat without the use of their legs . They travelled to various locations around Ireland and overseas at every possible occasion and had a regimented training routine that forced them to eat , drink and think competitive sailboat racing . The team couldn’t have trained any harder . Unfortunately , despite great performances , they didn’t make it to the podium . 

At the time , athletes were graded and given a classification number/points to indicate their level of disability . The rules dictated that each boat could have a total crew weighting of no more than 9 points among the three crew members – i.e. you could have a grade 1 and two grade 4 crew members or any combination not exceeding 9 . In addition to random drug testing , regular random “disability” testing was also carried out . This meant that athletes were taken aside without notice and checked by a medical expert to see if they were , in fact , as disabled as they declared they were and if they merited their “classification number”. The scandal in 2000 of the Spanish team who won the gold medal in the intellectual disability basketball competition , only to have their medals stripped from them when it was found that most of the team weren’t disabled , is an indication of why this may be necessary .

What I do recall is that the Paralympic Games were a spectacle of the best that humankind can offer . As Sir Sebastian Coe says about these games , I was blown away by what I witnessed .

So , race well John , Anthony and Ian and all our athletes representing us in the 2012 Paralympic Games . For all these athletes this is the culmination of at least 4 years of complete dedication and persistence and I know that the organisers of the London Paralympic Games will ensure we get the chance to be “blown away” by these great athletes in action .

 

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Melbourne , Australia

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So , after years of it being at the top of my “Dream List” , we have moved to Australia ! So far , it has exceeded all my expectations .

I’m here a full month now and it’s been all go since I arrived . As an indication of how things will go for the next few years , I was upgraded to Business Class on the longest leg of my flight here , from Abu Dhabi to Sydney , all 14 hours of it . Despite my protestations that I had bought an economy seat they insisted that I sit in a luxurious seat and drink a glass of champagne once I boarded the plane . I then recovered from the Bruce Springsteen concert (the previous night in the RDS) by watching premium movies and enjoyed a few great meals and caught up with a good few hours sleep . Ah , how the other half lives !! Mr Richard Branson didn’t make his customary profit on my seat !

I arrived on a saturday afternoon in the midst of an Australian winter – it was the warmest summer day I’d experienced this year ! Winter here seems to mean a cool night (maybe 5C) , heating up to around 16C by midday . That said , we did have a couple of days with rain like I haven’t experienced for a few years . The drains on the roads are about 3 foot deep – they were full !

I’m living (temporarily) in a suburb called South Yarra , just 20 minutes drive or tram ride from the office in Glen Iris and 20 minutes from the city centre . The city centre and environs are very well laid out , well thought out streets all built on a grid system with lots of lovely green parks and leisure areas . Lots of cranes on the skyline ! The public transport system is superb with very frequent train services from all areas to and from the city centre and CBD (Central Business District ) . The Australians love acronyms so they’re recovering from the GFC and I am out with clients in the CBD delivering DMPs with a view to securing TPE and TSE contracts We have a DQT and a TED in the office on a regular basis and and LMA is a big player over here with 40 years of brand awareness in Australia and New Zealand (check out http://www.lma.biz) . (OMG , LOL) .

There’s strong Irish community down here and we are just one of the many many races and cultures who mingle effortlessly in the area . Coffee has a major influence here – it reminds me of Ethiopia (from a coffee point of view), where most business / social / meetings happen over excellent coffee served in hundreds (if not thousands) of cafes throughout the city and suburbs .

I’ve met so many Irish people who live here and call Melbourne home . I’d like to profile some of these people on this blog as the months pass . They all have very interesting stories to tell . 

The sporting Irish are much respected here in this sports mad state . AFL is by far the main topic of conversation here on a monday morning and I’m under severe pressure to pick an Aussie Rules team to support (I’m going to wait until my daughter Emily tells me which team colours she prefers) . I went to see Geelong beat St. Kilda in the Ethiad stadium last friday night . A great night , but it would have to be as the game lasts well over 2 hours .

The great Jim Stynes is still one of the great icons of sport and is frequently discussed . I’m looking forward to reading Jim’s autobiography “My Journey” which was written in the last months of this Irish/Australian icon’s life . Rugby Union doesn’t have a huge following this far south but I did get to watch the All Blacks beat Australia in the 1st round of the Bledisloe Cup in the Moorabbin Rugby Club , surrounded by enormous , friendly and fun-loving ( and quite excited) pacific islanders . My son will be playing Rugby at this club with another boy from a lovely Cork family who have recently made Melbourne their home .

Melbourne is a bustling city with a great buzz and positivity with a great work environment and positivity . The company I have moved here to work with couldn’t have been more helpful . It is amazing the things you take for granted at home – bank accounts , mobile phone accounts , driving licences , etc etc . It would have been much more difficult to settle without everyone’s help . My most valuable possession is my GPS App on my iPhone – it guides me around the streets via a lovely French Language voice (I’m trying to improve my French) – still can’t figure what “fait un demi-tour si possible” means !

Enjoyed the views of Bass Strait last Sunday – magnificent ! I now know where we’ll be weekending !

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Until the next post – g’day mates !

 

 

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Haiti – A Curious Job Ad

How about this for an advertisement for a short term job :

Wanted – People for a week’s manual labour .
Description – you will travel to the poorest country in the western hemisphere with a group of like minded people . You will be working from 5 am to 5 pm each day in temperatures in excess of 45 degrees Celsius . Work will be carried out at a higher pace than would be normal in Ireland . You will construct 45 houses , one community hall , two soccer pitches , one garden area , one playground and numerous latrines . You will work with a very limited supply of building tools , equipment and supplies and may be exposed to torrential downpours during this 6 day period .
You will need to provide your own work boots and clothing etc . Accommodation will be provided in 6 man tents – please bring your own bedding , torches etc .
Medical – Please prepare against Malaria , Cholera , Tetanus , Typhoid , Diarrhea and other such conditions .
Wage – None
Oh , I forgot – please pay us €4,500 before you leave !

Would you go ?

Well , 350 people did go . Here are just some of these people :

From the left :
Jerome MacCarthy – Civil Engineer , originally from West Cork , now in Limerick
Thomas Atkinson – Building Manager from South East
Aideen Fahy – HR Manager from Galway , working in Dublin
Ger Shinnick – Facilities Manager from Fermoy
Martin Walsh – Truck Driver from Waterford
Padraig Cleary – Supermarket Manager in Carlow

The job description above was prophetic – it was possibly a little worse than described . These guys worked their butts off for the week – I found it hard to keep up with them .
Guess what – this group and so many more want to come back again next year .

As they say – go figure !

Interested ? Check it out at http://www.havenpartnership.com/

And here is one of the finished buildings :

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Haiti and Haven – A week’s work

Well we’re back from our week’s work in Gonaives , Haiti . Over 340 of us travelled to Haiti over a week ago and spent 6 full long days working on the Monte Blanc site . I’d like to write a few posts over the coming weeks outlining the worthwhile work being carried out by Haven in Haiti and to introduce you to some of the people , the circumstances , the issues we discovered while over there . Can I just start by giving a before and after view of the week’s work . This was the situation in the camp when we first arrived :
As you can see , much had been started before we arrived . Haven has a permanent presence on this site ( along with quite a number of other sites) and has a largely local workforce working on their various projects . One of the leaders of these permanent sites is our own JP from Riverstick , Co. Cork . In addition to building houses , Haven has a structured training programme in place , helping the locals to develop sustainable skills to continue with the building endeavours . JP and his team oversees the building and training of the workforce throughout the year .
As a group of volunteers , it was our job to finish off the housing complex . Here is a photo of the development when we finished work last friday evening :

You’ll notice the completed houses with their bright colours and , in the foreground , the playground that was started and finished for the local community .
More photos in later posts will show the various other projects that were finished in the week .

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Off to Haiti

So , finally , we’re off to Haiti on saturday !
I’m very fortunate to be part of the Haven Build it Week , taking place from 2nd to 10th April , in Gonaives , Haiti . I’m part of a great group of about 300 people , all of whom have raised the money , taken the time off and committed to building houses for so many in the local community of Gonaives .
I have to admit that I’m suffering some nerves ! What will we see ? How will the Haitians have recovered from the terrible earthquake , the subsequent cholera outbreak , the hurricane season ?? I’ve no doubt that many of the group flying out from Dublin early on saturday morning will be feeling similar nerves and concerns .
I’ve been fortunate to meet and listen to Leslie Buckley on a couple of occasions over the past months . Leslie and Jane Buckley founded the Haven Partnership a number of years ago after Leslie , in his role as executive of a caribbean based mobile phone business witnessed , first hand , the terrible conditions that the people of Haiti live in .
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere .
I’ve also met many of those who have taken part in previous “Build it Weeks” – all great people . Everyone who had been there before couldn’t wait to get back there again – they will be whipping me into shape as a general labourer for the week . We received the daily schedule last week – this is going to be hard work ! Starting at 0500 each morning and working through the day .
A big thank you to everyone who helped me raise a few euros – I achieved double my rowing target . As the trip was deferred since the originally scheduled November departure , I kept it going and got to 2000 kilometres (a lap and a half of Ireland) on that damned rowing machine !
So , if you’ll permit me , I’ll try to get back into this blogging when I get back (no internet access while we’re there) and describe some of the things , the people , the situations we come across .

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Customer Service !!!

I found myself “enjoying” a nine-hour stopover in London last weekend and , rather than hang about in Stansted , I headed into London city for the afternoon . It was a good day with the streets of Regent Street , Oxford Street packed with people .

Now , before I describe my experiences , I need to nail my colours to the mast . I am an Apple fan . Since I changed to Apple computers about 10 years ago , I have become a complete advocate of the company and it’s products . In addition to having a number of computers , iPhones , iPods etc – they are also clients of mine . Apple is a great business here in Cork , employing well in excess of 1,000 people . Why do I like their products ? They make using IT easy – that’s important for a guy like me who doesn’t understand what’s going on underneath the bonnet !

So , I go into the Apple Store . My first impression – it’s packed at 2pm on a Sunday . I have a good look around . All Apple products are on display – but not in display cabinets . They are on display on tables and desks . People are playing with them , touching them , exploring them , experimenting with them . Not some products – All products . Indeed , there are much more than just one of each product . I think that there were at least 8 iPads on display with people playing with them . There was no one walking around asking people not to touch , not to play . There were no restrictions – none !

I brought my own laptop – was keen to check my e-mails . There was free high-speed internet access . No login codes needed . Usage wasn’t provisional on making a purchase . There was no time limit . No restrictions , no ifs buts maybes . Simply – please come into my shop and use it for free ! (Irish Hotels and Cafes – please take note !)

Somebody was giving a lecture on how to use iPhoto ( a software application that comes with all Apple computers) . This was being staged in a small theatre-like lecture area . There were maybe 50 people at the lecture . It was very professionally delivered – The cost – free !

All around the store people were receiving one-to-one tuition and/or help with their Apple products . This service was being given by Apple “Geniuses” . Again – free ! Many people I saw were receiving help with old Apple products . Again , no conditions , preconditions etc .

So , with all this free stuff , how does Apple continue to be one of the most profitable and valuable companies in the World ? Well , I counted over 50 people queuing to purchase a product . I stayed in the store for at least one hour – the queue never fell below that number .

My read on this is quite simple – the customer’s experience is superb . Ok – their products are the best in the world but this is no longer enough – most other companies in the world have customers who believe that their products are the best . These days we have to “wow” the customer – that’s what Apple does .

Watch Apple continue to grow from strength to strength .

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Half Way There ! Downhill from now on !

Had a big weekend – I hit the half-way stage . I’m now at 527 kilometres and have brought my daily average up to 12 kilometres .
I have committed to row 1,000 kilometres on the Concept 2 Ergometer . It has been a hard slog but am now well and truly into the habit of 70-80 kilometres each week . On the plus side , I’ve lost 6 kilos in weight and have to say , do feel much fitter . But – it is boring ! Over an hour most evenings on a machine – it is helped by some music , Bruce Springsteen Live at Hyde Park is my poison
As you know, I’m raising funds to travel to Haiti as part of the 2010 Haven “Build it Week” . This will take place between 31st October and 7th November 2010 .
So I have another few weeks to make it to the 1,000 mark .
Regarding sponsorship – all funds have to be in next tuesday 31st August .
I have set up a page on mycharity.ie . Any help would be greatly appreciated : Click Here
Thanks a million

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