AS ATHLETES from all over the world make their final preparations for the forthcoming Rio Paralympics, which will be held in September, one Carlow athlete has set his sights on taking part in the next event, which will be held in Tokyo in 2020.
Fifteen-year-old Jake Hennessy from 27 Heather Hill Square in Graiguecullen has just had had his first success at international level, winning two medals at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) world under-23 junior games in Prague and now he wants more.
A little over a year ago Jake had never competed at national level not to mention on an international stage, but such has his progress been that not alone did he represent Ireland at one event but in three − javelin, shot-putt and discus − winning bronze in the discus and javelin.
Although born with hereditary spastic paraplegia, which affects Jake’s mobility and balance, it was not until last year that he was actually diagnosed with the disability.
From the time he was 18 months’ old Jake’s mother Vivienne noticed that he was walking on his toes. She was told he was going to grow out of it but, despite undergoing every test available over the years, it was not until the last round of tests at Temple Street Hospital in early 2015 that doctors finally put a name to his condition.
A student at Gaelcholáiste Cheatharlach, fellow pupil Sophie Denieffe suggested Jake take up wheelchair basketball in 2014, which he loved, and after that he looked to athletics.
After an initial two-hour training session at St Abban’s AC, under the guidance of Garrett Culliton, Jake took part in his first athletics competition in June 2015, winning gold, silver and bronze. He continued to compete in events organised by the IWA and at the end of the season was awarded a plaque for best newcomer.
Thanks to his success at those events, Jake was selected to compete at the IWAS games in Prague, which ran from 29 June to 2 July. The games come under the auspices of the International Paralympics – in the under 16 category for the shot-putt and at under-18 level for discus and javelin.
When he was first selected to compete, Jake set his sights on achieving personal bests and was ecstatic when he accomplished that in all three codes at the games, as well as winning the two bronze medals. And he managed to achieve that even though he currently requires surgery on both knees.
While some may have used that as an excuse not to achieve their best, Jake says that experiencing discomfort, as he casually called it, is nothing new for him. “Anyone with a disability will tell you we always have to try that little bit harder to achieve what other people take for granted, but so what, you do what you do and what you can and just get on with it,” he remarked.
“I was delighted to do as well as I did. I never expected to win a medal, never mind two. Naturally, I would love to continue to compete and improve, and who knows what will happen when the Tokyo Paralympics come round,” Jake added.
There in Prague to witness him take to the podium to collect his medals was his proud mother Vivienne and grandmother Margaret Hennessy from 5 Roncalli Place.
No doubt, his two most ardent supporters will be with him when he next competes on the international stage, wherever that may be. But in the meantime, they will be cheering him on at the IWA South East Games in mid-August and the grand prix in Cork the following month.