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Insights from a world-class athlete

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Chris Kane Chris Kane | 20:21 UK time, Monday, 2 May 2011

Michael McKillop

Recently I had the opportunity to have lunch with gold medal-winning Paralympic athlete Michael McKillop, where I learnt a great deal about what it takes to truly be on top of your game. It struck me that achievements of this nature could provide the ONE Workplace team with some insights as we continue on our journey towards becoming world-class.

The London Olympics is fast approaching and heavily in the spotlight, particularly with the ticket application deadline which passed at the end of April. But there are two games taking place in 2012. The Paralympics takes place between the 29 August and 9 September at the same venues.

Meeting Michael McKillop and learning a bit about the Paralympics was one of those truly eye-opening opportunities. To speak to someone who holds a Paralympic gold medal and has a number of world records to his name was inspirational. I listened, with admiration, as he explained about the amount of training he puts in and the sheer hard work and determination necessary. Yet he has done this for many years while facing his other personal challenge - Michael has a mild form of cerebral palsy.

In learning about the challenges of reaching the highest echelons of world sport, I was curious about how Paralympians get the support they need. In the case of this young man from Belfast, his principal support comes from Paralympics Ireland and the Irish Sports Council. Without assistance, both financial and otherwise, athletes would find it virtually impossible to make any progress.

In the end though it's down to the individual to deliver the goods on the day! Michael shared a very interesting story about how his dad, his coach, helped him to overcome the mental challenges of competing on the world stage. At the age of 18 Michael made it to the final of the 800m in Beijing 2008. He had to run in front of a crowd of 91,000 people in the Bird's Nest arena -the size of which he had never seen before. A daunting task for anyone, made especially difficult as the rules demanded that Paralympians could not take their carers/support team with them during the final pre-race period. Michael explained that this was a big challenge for him, but his Dad helped him conquer his misgivings and when giving Michael some parting shots of advice he put a small piece of paper into his running spikes. "Open this note when you finish the race," it said.

History tells us that Michael went out and blew his competition away, completing a world record beating race in a time just under 2 minutes (1.59.39). As he approached the podium to receive gold he took out the note from his dad. It read: "You've won!"

From that day on Michael has never looked back. He exudes charm, good humour and confidence. He faces up to the challenges of his disability and is a role model to us all, showing what can be achieved if you put your mind to it, have the right support, and most of all believe that great things happen when we work together as a team.

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