28 Year old Paralympian, Orla Barry, was named amongst 10 chosen to represent Ireland in the European Para Athletic Championships. From August 20-26 athletes from around Europe will gather in Berlin to face off in competition. Orla's sporting endeavour of choice is discus, F57 to be exact. The athletes are classed according to Field (F) or Track (T) and following that the nature of their disability comes into play. Orla is classed among the seated athletes with lower leg abnormalities. It is in that class she has, through the determination and discipline of a professional sportsperson, represented her country in three World Summer Paralympics. Her first Paralympics was in Beijing in 2008, where she came 5th. Following that in London 2012, she won the Bronze medal and in Rio in 2016 she raised the bar and came home with a Silver medal. The next Summer Paralympics will take place in Tokyo in 2020.
Speaking with The East Cork Journal, Orla said, “The road to the Paralympics is a four year event. Competition at European and World levels take place in the years in between, where you have to earn your place to take part and prove that you are fit and ready to compete at those levels.”
The dedication it takes to compete beside the World's best is phenomenal. Orla's typical week consists of up to three weekly Strength and Conditioning sessions at the Midleton Park Gym, plus a visit to a specialist instructor in Limerick once a fortnight. On top of that, she does the same amount of separate cardio workouts, throwing sessions which includes 2-3 weekly visits to her throwing instructor in New Ross. Once a week she does physio combining sessions of rehab, Pilates and pre-hab (which is training and exercise as a preventative against injury). The cherry on the top of that full-on training, is a regimented diet.
“It’s a way of life for me now”, said Orla. “I began all this when I was 9 years old. After doing swimming as a rehab aid through Enable Ireland, I was gradually introduced to various athletic pursuits such as javelin, shot-put and track and discus. By the time I was 13, it was evident that discus is where my main strength was, so I concentrated solely on that for competition, though doing some of all the other activities is a great help to my overall fitness as well as discus.”
Orla was born with non-weight bearing shins and kneecaps. At 11 months old she became a double amputee with the removal of her legs to just above the knee. “I've never known another way to walk other than with artificial legs” said Orla, “it was all done before I would have been walking anyway, so I only had to learn how to walk once, just like everyone. The amputation took place above the knees as the formation of my legs below that point just would not have allowed me to stand, even with artificial legs.”
An amazing ambassador for sport, East Cork and Ireland, we will be speaking with Orla again before she heads off to compete in Berlin.