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Patrick Monahan is gearing up for the Tokyo Paralympics

Patrick Monahan is gearing up for the Tokyo Paralympics

Patrick Monahan on the track.

Patrick Monahan on the track.

Patrick Monahan has Tokyo Paralympics in his sights

Patrick Monahan has Tokyo Paralympics in his sights

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Patrick Monahan is gearing up for the Tokyo Paralympics

The late, great Ayrton Senna once raced around Mondello Park near Naas.

But when the engines fell silent during the pandemic Patrick Monahan had the famous 2.2 mile-long circuit all to himself as he trained for the Tokyo Paralympic marathon.

"I wasn't quite as fast as the racing cars," he says with a chuckle.

"I live about 200 metres from the front gates. When the lockdown came, I didn't even have to ring them to check whether there was anything on. I could nip down any time for a training session."

Unlike the Olympic marathon, which was switched to Sapporo to avoid the high temperature and humidity in Tokyo, the Paralympic marathon - scheduled for Sunday, September 5 - will be held in the capital city.

Even though the race starts at 6.30am local time, by the time the marathoners cross the finish line in the Olympic Stadium the temperature is likely to exceed 30 degrees and the humidity will be oppressive.

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Patrick Monahan on the track.

Patrick Monahan on the track.

Patrick Monahan on the track.

"At the moment I'm doing heat chamber training in the Institute of Sport in Abbotstown. After 35 minutes I feel like passing out," the Toyota ambassador explained.

"Between the warm-up, being on the start line and the race itself, which is on an extremely hilly course, I will be out in those conditions for two hours."

For paralympians, the marathon is particularly challenging. Unlike track races, there are just three categories in the marathon so Monahan faces competitors who are more physically functional than he is.

"It is frustrating, but I don't talk too much about it because it sounds like I'm giving out.

"In my class I am ranked among the top two or three in the world. When we are all together, I am still competitive.

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"But there are certain technical corners as well as in sprinting where they would have an advantage.

"A lot of the big city marathons come down to a burn-up in the last mile. I once finished 11th in the Chicago marathon but there were only a few seconds between second and eleventh place."

Big city marathons are very competitive nowadays because of the prize money available. The male and female wheelchair winners of the 2019 London marathon each collected a cheque for $25,000.

Technology has influenced the sport as well. Monahan's racing chair which cost €10,000 is manufactured from carbon and aluminium. The more expensive models cost up to €30,000.

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Patrick Monahan has Tokyo Paralympics in his sights

Patrick Monahan has Tokyo Paralympics in his sights

Patrick Monahan has Tokyo Paralympics in his sights

On Monday, March 5, 2007, Monahan, then a 21-year-old apprentice plumber, was late for work. He jumped into his car and sped away from his home. Five minutes later everything changed forever.

"I was driving too fast and lost control of the car and the rest is history," he says.

Fourteen years later he retains a photographic like memory of every moment of that day.

He knew he was in trouble when before being wheeled into theatre in the Mater Hospital he asked the surgeon whether he would walk again. "She said I had a chance."

He broke three thoracic vertebrae and stretched his spiral cord in the smash. Critically, bone splinters stabbed his spinal cord as well.

"What I found most traumatic was being put in a wheelchair for the first time. I didn't want to be put there because I knew that was the start of something. Genuinely it doesn't bother me any more. I never think about walking now. It took me a while.

"I lived across the road from a hurling pitch and although I didn't play much hurling, I missed the GAA. The first couple of years were tough but with the support of my family and friends I got through it.

"Now I'm very independent and have travelled all over the world with my racing chair and travel case. I'm very lucky to be able to do that."

His family is steeped in the GAA.

His father Michael refereed the 2005 All-Ireland football final between Tyrone and Kerry. Patrick hung up his whistle after one forgettable performance.

"In my late teens I got roped into refereeing a women's GAA game one evening when the appointed referee didn't show up. I was nearly bet off the field. Refereeing is a tough gig."

Instead he concentrated on his football career. Forty eight hours before the crash he lined out for the Raheens senior team.

After his rehabilitation he had an opportunity to play wheelchair basketball. "I was never into basketball and I didn't want to play the game just because I was in a wheelchair."

But he had an epiphany watching the London Paralympics in 2012. "David Weir won four gold medals before 80,000 people. I said I'd love to give that a go. I didn't jump at it straight away. But in 2013 I approached the sport department in the Irish Wheelchair Association and asked them whether they had any racing chairs."

He finished second on his debut in the Dublin marathon a few months later. He caught the bug, becoming the dominant figure in the wheelchair section and reeling off four consecutive wins in Dublin between 2014 and 2018, posting a best time of one hour, 39 minutes and 18 seconds in 2016.

He moved on to the big city marathon worldwide and has competed in the Chicago, Boston and New York marathons and won international events in Ohio and Lanzarote.

Arguably his best performance came in June 2019 when he finished second in the Duluth marathon in Minnesota in the US - the route was along Lake Superior. He clocked 1:22.13, beating his own Irish record by more than six minutes and effectively booking his place in the Tokyo Paralympics.

Now coached by Westmeath native Mark Rohan, who won two gold medals at the London Paralympics, Monahan has a specific reason for hoping the rescheduled Games will go ahead this summer.

Five years ago in Rio he rose from his sick bed and despite still being on medication finished the Paralympic marathon in 16th place.

"I could have dropped out, but I remember thinking I might never get this opportunity again, so I kept going even though my time was nowhere where it should have been."

Monahan is now a full-time student having secured a sports scholarship to pursue a degree in community and youth work in TU Blanchardstown. "It's in my nature to help people. I would like to make a difference to the community and perhaps work with people who have issues with addiction."

For the next 16 weeks though, it is all about clocking 150 miles a week around Mondello Park in a racing chair.

Patrick Monahan is a brand ambassador for Toyota. The 'Start Your Impossible' campaign celebrates the best of human performance and can be viewed on toyota.ie

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