Name: Oliver Gunning
Athlete Story: Speaking with Vision Sports, Oliver shared his story. “I’ve always loved sport, but as I grew older found it harder to compete on a level playing field with peers. I had numerous eye operations as a child and wasn’t allowed to take part in contact sport or team sports. Finding a sport to keep safe and compete was difficult. Our family bought a tandem about 7 years ago for exercise, and I got involved with that. Then I was fortunate to be introduced to guided running. Around the same time our local parkrun started up and I really enjoyed running each Saturday – each week challenging the guides to keep up. I joined the local athletics club, was fortunate to be supported here by great coaches, one of them is a Triathlon Ireland Coach. Then came the questions can you swim, and can you cycle? Before I knew it, I was training hard with a training plan from Triathlon Ireland, lockdown gave me the perfect opportunity to get stronger and fitter.
For me, the main challenge was finding a sport that I enjoyed and could compete safely. Primary school was tough, team sports, no real opportunity to join in fairly. When I found triathlon, I was really happy. There is still a lack of support and recognition for paratriathlon, and I think para sport in general should have the same exposure as other sports get. The athletes involved in para sports at a high level are training just as hard as other athletes, and most of the time have more obstacles to overcome.
My favourite thing about my sport is that I race with a guide. It’s a joint effort by both of us. To compete fairly in paratriathlon is important. The guide gives up a lot of their time to assist, but hopefully the rewards for both of us far outweigh that, good guides are ones that you can build good friendships with. I’m still only 17, but have been introduced to a number of very experienced guides, who have helped me reach international races.”
Achievements: Competing at the World Triathlon Grand Final in Abu Dhabi, competing in such a field of elite Paratriathletes, many of them Paralympians – really humbling waiting on the start line of this race with my guide Stephan Teeling-Lynch. My first European race was special too, with my guide Tom Flaherty, such a positive first experience, super atmosphere, hard work through lockdown got results – 12th place in this race. In 2022, I represented Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games 2022 with guide Kyle Duncan, earning 9th Place after a crash on the tandem.
Hero: More recently I have encountered para-athletes, many of whom have had disabilities from birth, some who have suffered illness or a life changing incident and are facing huge challenges. Donnacha McCarthy would be one of those athletes who would lend support to me and I respect his experience and achievements. Alex Yee is really exciting to watch, his rise to the top of British Triathlon has been an inspiration
Advice: “To a person younger than me I would say, keep trying all sports that you can, the right door will open for you. You’ll know what you enjoy best, what feels right. There are opportunities out there, Vision Sports can help point you in the right direction – although sometimes just jumping in, taking a leap of faith and joining a club with support is the best way forward. Sports is so important for your mental health as well as your physical health, it’s not about being the best – its knowing that you are giving your best. Then you get enjoyment, support and all the benefits that sport can bring.”