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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Kieran Behan: One definition of toughness



For Kieran Behan, the fact that he is able to look forward to his second Olympic Games is little short of miraculous. Born in London to a father from Dublin and a mother from Monaghan, the gymnast who has partnered with Team Ireland, is an athlete who will carry the nation's hopes in Rio. But Kieran's greatest challenge came when he was just 10 years old.


A benign tumour in his leg left the young Kieran confined to a wheelchair. However, he defied the odds and was able to return to training until, 15 months later, tragedy struck when he suffered a fall and a brain injury that affected his balance and co-ordination. The young gymnast was told he would never walk again, much less compete.

But Kieran Behan is a fighter, and an embodiment of – 'The Power Within'. Not only did he return to gymnastics, he went on to prove himself at the elite level. In 2012, Kieran qualified for the Olympics through a 4th place finish at the London test event, making him only the second Irish gymnast ever to qualify for the Games.

He's described his feat as "a miracle", and although his Games didn't go as well as he had hoped – he was unable to qualify for the individual all-around, or any of the event finals – London went down as an important learning experience and a source of immense personal pride. "I'm proud of proving myself as the athlete I am," he says. "From twice being told that I was never going to walk again to competing at the highest level, and seeing how happy my family and the people around me are."

However, it hasn't all been smooth sailing since. After London, Kieran was hit by another setback. His troublesome left knee flared up again and he was forced to undergo surgery on it for the fifth time in his life. With surgery came missed competitions, weight gain and a lot of soul-searching, and Kieran admits that that period of his life put him at his lowest ebb – but he didn't let it beat him.

"That was the closest I've ever come to quitting," he says. "I was struggling – being injured, financially, everything. But then I sat down and said to myself: 'You've been through a lot worse, you're made of strong stuff, let's go for it'."
Go for it, he did – and then some. Kieran went on to show immense resolve yet again on the road to Rio. In April, he qualified for his second Olympic Games with a highly creditable fourth-place finish at the Aquece Rio final gymnastics qualifier, and a score of 14.966 in the floor apparatus final.

It was vindication not only of Kieran's talent – which has never been in doubt – but also his relentlessly positive attitude and the drive and determination that has seen him overcome every obstacle that has been put in his way.
"If you've had adversity in life," he says, "you're going to be mentally stronger and have more resilience if you can flip a negative into a positive. That's something that I try to live by. When I hit a low point in my career, I pull from my experiences in the past and say, 'Right, let's look at the next goal that you can overcome'."


With everything he has been through, it's tempting to suggest that Kieran Behan already won. But that's not his mentality. The next goal is Rio 2016. It's time for another fight.