On rare occasions in our lives we get to meet someone who has faced adversity, struggled and become an inspiration in how they overcame their hardship. When that person is only starting out in life, it is even rarer. Peter Ryan is one of those people. His story has challenged the Irish Youth Foundation to help him fulfill his potential and to make his dream come true. But we need your help. Here is his story…

In the Spring of 2010, Peter was a 19 year old with a very bright future. He was midway through an apprenticeship as a plasterer and he had just bought his first car. A keen hurler, he had succeeded in being picked for the Tipp Minors. Life was good.

In eight short months all this changed.

“I was out playing a match and during it a few things went wrong. When I got home I said to my mum that I thought I needed contact lenses. A series of tests later I found out I was losing my sight. I had developed a genetic condition called Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON). Over the next 8 months I gradually lost the ability to read, drive, watch television, work and play sport. The lads in my job were sound and kept me on for as long as possible but in the end I had to stop working. Gradually my life as I knew it was being stripped away”

“I put up a front even though I was dying inside. I’m from a family of eight children so I felt I had to hold it together. I wouldn’t let anyone help me, I wouldn’t accept lifts off my parents, I even got my little brothers to text for me. For as long as I could would I bluffed my way through”.

Peter lives in rural Tipperary, which meant additional challenges.

‘”There is no public transport where I live so my car was really important to me. It was devastating when I had to hand over my keys”.

“I was twenty, living at home, I had lost my job and the sport I loved. All I had left was my social life. I could still sit in the pub with the lads and drink my head off. It made me feel the same as everyone else. It didn’t matter that I was blind… I bottled up all the pain.”

“This eventually came to a head and I went totally off the rails. I just got really messed up and in the end I had to go into rehabilitation to get help. It was a dark time”.

Receiving counseling was his life saver.

“To be honest only for my counselor I don’t know where I would be. She identified all the physical energy that was building up inside of me and helped me channel it".

"For the first time in my life I am being selfish. I know that might sound odd, but for two years after losing my sight I was just keeping face for everyone else. I didn’t want to upset anyone or put them out. But concentrating on myself has helped me address my blindness and ultimately how I deal with it. It got me into cycling and gave me a new focus.”

In 2012, Peter started para-cycling (cycling a tandem with a ‘pilot’) and within six months he won the National Championship, breaking the National Record at the same time. He is now professionally training to the same intensity as sighted Olympian Athletes under the guidance of Neill Delahaye, Cycling Ireland National Development Coach and team coach for the Irish Para Olympic Squad.

Peter’s goal is to represent Ireland at the Paralympics Rio De Janeiro 2016 and the Irish Youth Foundation are committed to funding him to get there.

Before Peter started para-cycling he had never been overseas. It’s opened up an amazing cultural experience for him.

"As we are such a big family, funds were tight growing up so it’s incredible to visit places like the Netherlands, France and Canada".

But he needs funding to continue this professional career of competing internationally. When I asked him how he feels about comments that he could have played for Tipperary he responded:

People in Tipp say I could be playing for Tipperary but to be honest I think that’s all a bit romantic and heightened. I might just have been a plasterer but how bad is that! I was on the minor team and I was doing well. Maybe there is a bit of glorification just because I'm blind now but I definitely have all this energy built up inside of me and that’s why my goal is to win an Olympic medal. This is the goal I am willing to speak of. I have another one in my head but I won’t reveal it, that's for me!”

Intrigued by what this goal is I would like to reinforce that Peter is an outstanding talented athlete, strong in body and focus and the kind of person you instantly like and want to help in any way possible to make his goal a reality. To get to Rio he needs €30,000 and the Irish Youth Foundation is committed to making this happen. Dealing with this lifelong condition, he has everyday challenges to overcome but securing this funding is one critical thing off his list.

In September of this year, Team IYF is cycling 700kms from Paris to Nice to raise funds to help Peter. I am appealing to you to make a donation and help Peter fund his journey of winning a gold medal for Ireland.

Thank you for your support,

Niall McLoughlin

Click here to watch Peter cycling.