Ten years ago, Daráine Mulvihill was spending a lazy day in front of the television watching a marathon when she had a urge that so many people felt during the recent Olympics. She wanted to get more involved in sport.
Sport was something she watched, not something she participated in. Her relationship with the sport changed in 1999 when she was struck by severe meningitis. Both of her legs were amputated below the knee and she lost all of her fingers. She spent a year in the hospital and was in a coma for eight weeks. She received the last rites when her parents feared the worst.
Before her illness, at 16, she played the piano and practiced all possible sports. She was passionate about cross country. By the time she was well enough to go back to school, sport was no longer a priority and he passed out.
“There is a lot of motivation behind women’s sport, and that’s absolutely right. If you can’t see it, you can’t be. It is exactly the same for people with disabilities, ”she told the Independent Sunday.
“When I woke up in the hospital to find that I had lost both legs and all my fingers, the reality of life that lay ahead was unknown to me.
“I didn’t know what I could do and I certainly didn’t think I could play sports again. I had never seen the Paralympic Games or heard of them. I didn’t really know anyone with a disability, but life is so different now and the Paralympics are part of it. ”
Daraïne contributed to greater awareness. It started for her that lazy day at home 10 years ago.
“It was a public holiday and I was out this weekend. I thought it was such a shame that I never got to run again, because you know how so inspired you get when you watch something like that. An advertisement came in saying that Channel 4 was looking for people with disabilities and it sparked a light bulb in my head.
“I thought it might be a good solution for me. I was already working in children’s television at RTÉ. I applied, left it in the gods’ knees, and finally heard an answer.
Channel 4 was committed to making disability more visible. The station’s coverage of the London 2012 Paralympic Games was going to be a key part of this plan. Daráine was part of it as a presenter, presenting sports and speaking with athletes.
“I get a lot of calls from parents who have just found out that their child is going to lose a limb, and they just want to talk to someone to be reassured that everything will be fine,” she said. “For those like them the options are endless – even competing for Ireland or being on RTÉ talking about it shows there are opportunities. When I was sick, it was not immediately obvious to me. I didn’t know what options would be available.
“When I went to the UK to cover the London games, it was really the first time I met people like me who had all kinds of disabilities – people born with disabilities and people who had been through hardships. extremely traumatic experiences. But they all had “can do” attitudes with a goal or challenge that they were looking forward to. It was very inspiring. ”
The commitments of life and work have occupied Daráine ever since. She now works as a researcher at RTÉ and covered the 2016 Paralympic Games for the broadcaster. She will be back on screen this week to direct her coverage of the Tokyo games alongside Evanne Ní Chuilinn.
She’s also a mother now, with Katie (4) and Colm (2) commanding a lot of attention. Katie is aware of Daráine’s handicap, Colm, not so much. It’s something Daráine is very down to earth, but there was a time when she wasn’t so direct when talking about her prosthetic legs and hands. Sometimes she finds herself “doing the right thing” by talking about it, but at other times, telling people what happened can be emotional.
“The last time I went to America I was pushed aside by the security guards because they needed to take a fingerprint. I explained that I couldn’t do this. They took me to a room with two armed guards. I was telling people my story and they looked at me with faces without expression because that is how they are formed. I found myself getting emotional. It’s something touching because it happened to me and really had an impact on my life.
“College was really difficult because I was embarrassed by my disability at the time. I wasn’t used to it and didn’t know how to go about it. I didn’t know what to say to people. I was still growing up. Every time I went to the airport I just went to security and walked by. Then all the lights would go out and things would start ringing from the metal in my legs and I was like “Oh” like I was surprised.
“Now I walk up to them and tell them ‘I have prosthetic legs’ and make them aware of it. Before, I didn’t know how to do this stuff.
“People were moving to shake my hand and I was pretending not to see him. I used to feel so embarrassed, but now I realize that it makes other people uncomfortable, so I just say “Oh, I have a prosthetic hand” and it defuses the tension.
“I see him sometimes with my little girl. People said she wouldn’t know the difference, she would only know you like you. But she does.
“She doesn’t feel awkward at home, but she does feel awkward when she’s outside and thinks people might look at her or look at me differently.”
However, she said her disability and experience gives her a glimpse into what some Paralympic athletes go through. Disability is one of the sports we’ll be seeing in the coming weeks, and Daráine feels well placed to tell the stories that will emerge.. About 80% of her colleagues working on RTÉ’s cover also have a disability – a sign of progress, she said.
Daráine wonders if the games will help her make a change and consider running again.
One of the pieces she worked on in the 2012 games saw her fitted with a pair of racing blades made famous by Paralympic sprinters. She still has them and says she could dust them off afterwards. She also hopes that the The Paralympic Games give sports for people with disabilities greater visibility.
“The more it is done, the more acceptable it is. We see it with Sunday game have female experts. It’s also obvious that Cora Staunton should be talking about Mayo or Anna Geary talking about Cork, but we didn’t see that five or six years ago.
“In my role as a researcher at RTÉ, I review a lot of archive images and it’s incredible how many political shows were made 20 or 30 years ago where there were only men in the screen. It’s not so much like that anymore, and while there is more to do, it’s important to look at where we came from.
Live Paralympic Games action kicks off on RTÉ2, RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ Player from Tuesday