Wall to wall, Kevin is a Champion
Written by by Lloyd Gorman and Fred Rea
Sunday, 11 May 2014 05:37
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From our latest Irish Scene....

Story by Lloyd Gorman and Fred Rea

Tipperary man Kevin Wall plans to be in Boston in October and to row for Australia. The offer to join the Aussie team as a member in the world famous Head of the Charles Regatta for the 50th anniversary of the event is a pretty big deal for the Killarney Autos mechanic and his team mates. It will be only the second year that an Australian crew will have taken part in the world’s biggest rowing regatta and Kevin has big hopes of winning. Success there could help pave the way for him to become an Australian citizen and the bigger prize of representing Australia in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.



He has come agonisingly close to representing his country at the Paralympics before, in London two years ago, but lost out by the narrowest of margins. But Kevin, who was born with cerebral palsy, is not a man to let a set back get in the way of him or hold him back. His passion for rowing has changed his life already and has the potential to transform it, and has remarkably even saved the lives of others.

“I was born with CP, it was a complication of birth, I was a twin, it took me 14 years to learn how to walk and talk,” Kevin told Irish Scene. He has been rowing now for 16 years. Having wrestled with his condition and largely overcome it he has never allowed it to limit or define his life. “I never let the CP hold me back, yeah, doing the Leaving Cert was a bit of a challenge. I did my trade in the Waterford Institute of Technology in 2004. Doing a job like this that requires coordination can be a challenge but I love it. I was lucky to get a job here with Niall and I’m well looked after. I’m a guy that takes a lot of pride in everything I do and I give it a 100%. I don’t go around telling people I have a difficulty, I compete and I take things day to day as good as everybody else. I push hard in everything I do.”

He jokes about the way his speech is slowed. “I have a slight speech impediment and being in Australia everyone says that’s not an Irish accent and I say its a unique Tipperary accent and it tends to fool them,” he laughed.

He first came to Western Australia on a tourist visa in 2011. “While I was rowing for Bunbury I contacted the Irish Amateur Rowing Union and they invited me to go to the Paralympics. I went back to Ireland in February 2012 and I got my Irish jersey in May 2012. Before the London games I was on the squad and out of the five time trials for it I missed the last trial by three or four seconds.” The disappointment of losing out on this opportunity would see Kevin return to WA in September 2013 but the time he spent back in Ireland still rowing and training afterwards would become a life changing event for others, if not him. Kevin is such a humble guy that he did not even tell us the story of how he single handedly rescued a man and his nine year old son from drowning. We only found out by accident that this modest mechanic had saved them from drowning while out rowing his single seater scull boat on the River Suir in Clonmel in July of last year. While out on the water he heard a faint cry for help and spotted something in the water, quickly realising it was a capsized boat with two people in difficulty. He saw a little boy clinging to the end of the upturned boat and the father trying, but unable to right it.

“I sprinted down to the boat,” Kevin told a reporter for the Nationalist newspaper shortly after the dramatic rescue. “I was in a single scull which is difficult to get out of at a slip, never mind when there is no slip, so I pulled right in to the bank and stepped out into waist-deep water. I waded out to chest-deep water and grabbed one end of the boat and pulled it in to where there was a little bit of sand to stand on. The father seemed to be struggling. I helped him in to the bank and eventually he was able to stand. They must have been in the water a good bit before I heard them, he was struggling to keep afloat and to keep his son afloat.”

Aware that the capsized boat could quickly collect water and sink Kevin helped the man - Michael Lumley - to get it about the right way. “We were blessed that piece of land was there, Michael and I were sinking into the silt” he added.

Having helped the man and his boy into their boat and to row to a spot on the river bank where emergency services (Gardai, fire brigade members in aqua gear and ambulance) who were alerted by a woman who had been out walking her dog were waiting. When hey had been checked out and given the all clear the nine year old went home while his dad, accompanied all the way by Kevin, who was then working as a barman, took the canoe back to the Workman’s Boat Club.

When he returned to Australia he got in contact with various rowing organisations, including Rowing WA, Rowing Australia and the Paralympics Committee in Australia. “I’ve been doing time trails with Rowing WA down in Champion Lakes. I’m the only Adaptive rower (rowing for people with difficulties) in WA. They compared my times to world class standards, where I was achieving up to 90% of a world class standard,” he added. “In February I went to the Balmain Boat Club and I participated in the NSW state championships where I rode a scull, a double and a quad. So I came home with two silver medals from that event and after a few more discussions I was asked if I would go forward to row an adaptive boat in Boston, for the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta. Australia sent over an adaptive crew for the first time ever last year and I was lucky enough to be invited to be a member of the crew. The crew have sponsored me and I fly over and back to Sydney every three weeks. Recently we raced in the Australian National Championship.”

He said one of their four member team had to drop out of the race because of an injury. “So instead of forfeiting the crew decided to race with three people. A lot of people looked at us funny, thinking we were sure to lose, that’s what was on everyone’s mind. But it was my opinion we were 80 or 90kgs lighter than the other boats. It was a great race over a 1000 metres and we won by over a boat length, about 40 feet.”

As well as his own role on the boat, Kevin took up the place of the missing crew member and literally rowed the equivalent of two team members. “It was a tough challenge, but we won. I’ve been in contact with Rowing Australia and its my ambition to stay in Australia and hopefully go for the Paralympics in Rio in 2016 with Rowing Australia. At the moment, all the focus and short term goals are on Boston and getting there. I must say I’ve never been so appreciated and the amount of support I’m getting from Rowing Australia is amazing and I’m hoping to get the backing and support of the Irish community.”

In addition to his day job at Killarney Autos Kevin has been out at night selling bottle openers, trying to organise events such as a quiz night and whatever else he can do to raise funds for the Boston trip. The crew members need to raise several thousand dollars each to be able to make the trip. Kevin hopes that Irish companies here will be able to come on board and back him and in turn to win them what could be valuable advertising space on his gear.

He is also spending any free time he can running in races and cycling contests to build up his stamina.

“I’m pushing hard for it. Getting sponsorship would be brilliant, it would allow me to focus on the things that really need attention and to make sure that over the next two or three years I can get the visas I need. I’m on a business visa at the moment but I’m looking at residency and other options. The most likely way is to get my citizenship for Rio is the Distinguished Talent Visa. One of the requirements for that is big wins. I’ve had a big win last weekend bringing home a gold meal in the Australia Championship and winning in Boston would put the spot light on me. Having an Irish man in the boat for Australia at Rio would be great.”

If you think you can help or sponsor Kevin get in contact with Fred Rea 0418 943 832.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 11 May 2014 05:48 )