Gary O'Reilly with his family at County Hall. Photo: Michael Scully
Portlaoise’s Irish Paralympic medalist Gary O’Reilly was honoured in his native Laois with a Civic Reception at Laois County Council.
Gary and his colleague Laois paralympic swimmer Nicole Turner, scooped medals at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics last summer, making their families, communities and country proud.
Last Thursday, April 28 he was accompanied by close to 100 members of his family and friends, at a special reception to honour him in the Laois County Council Chamber.
Gary suffered serious injuries in a workplace accident in 2014 which resulted in partial paralysis. Following extensive rehab and physiotherapy, starting with learning to walk again, he was encouraged by Garrett Culleton to try wheelchair rugby and Clonaslee Wheelchair Basketball Club, which led him to Declan Slevin and paracycling, going on to train fulltime under professional coaches which he continues today.
In his first World Championships in 2019 he finished 6th, then 3rd in 2021, securing his place in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics which took place during Covid in 2021.
Laois County Council senior engineer Pat Delaney read a citation that was then presented to Gary along with a specially commissioned trophy.
“We and the people of Laois salute you and your sporting achievements to date. We commend you on your dedication to your sporting success. We wish you every success in the future and have great pleasure in presenting you with this certificate of achievement on this special occasion,” he said.
Gary was congratulated and praised by council management and local councillors.
Gary told the Leinster Express afterwards what an unexpected honour it was, and what he is now aiming to achieve.
“I only heard a few weeks ago it was happening. I couldn’t believe the number of people who came here. I’m going to the World Cup Series next week in Ostend. I will be gone for the whole month of May doing three races across Europe,” he said.
His fiancée is Hazel Westman from Rosenallis. The couple who now live in Ballyfin are getting married in September.
They were only dating for eight months when Gary’s accident happened and Hazel has seen him struggle and soar to success.
“It has taken him years of effort. I don’t know how he has the willpower he does. He spends hours every day on the bike with only one day off a week. I am just so proud of him. I don’t think he realises himself how proud he has made people,” Hazel said.
His parents are Hilda and Anthony from Borris Little.
“It’s a tremendous honour. We never expected him to get the medal. Recognition like this in Laois is a big occasion for our family.
“We are very proud of him. To turn such a tragic event around, it’s fabulous to find that strength, we are all delighted and very proud and we hope for more medals for him,” Anthony said.
Gary’s siblings Stephen, Aaron and Amy were there too, along with his proud granny Kathleen Dunne.
“I am just so thrilled. It’s a great achievement. We are all proud of him. We had all watched him on television together in Hilda’s house, it was so exciting, we couldn’t believe it,” Kathleen said.
Gary gave his words of thanks.
“Thank you to Laois County Council, this is a huge honour. Many of you knew me before the accident. The only bike I was interested in had an engine. I took up cycling for something to do with friends. The support I receive from the town is nothing short of incredible. Although there were no spectators allowed at the paralympics, I got so many messages and it was much appreciated."
He thanked Portlaoise business supporters including Murt Keane from Race Right Cycles, Monica Delaney, Mark Martley and Brendan Deevy.
“Apologies to anyone who had to see my face plastered all over the town, it can’t have been easy.
“My family, friends and fiancée have always encouraged me to follow my dreams, and hopefully that will continue to the paralympics in 2024,” he said.
The Cathaoirleach Conor Bergin had led others in praise of Gary.
“It is a great honour for me as Cathaoirleach to accord this Civic Reception in recognition of your achievements and in particular your success at the Paralympic Games where you secured a bronze medal for Ireland in Paracycling.
“Gary is a great ambassador for county Laois abroad. His determination and tenacity is evident and he is a shining example to all. I have no doubt that the commitment which he has shown will continue to bring him much deserved and well earned success.
“It is always with pride that Laois County Council honour people from our own community who represent their county and country with such distinction, and promote such a positive image. Gary is one such person and has put Laois on the international map. I thank all associated with your success, your family, friends and mentors,
Cllr Willie Aird said he had made everyone very proud.
“You’re being honoured with the highest honour that can be achieved in Laois, very few get it. Thank you for the work you put in to achieve a medal. I can remember the day you had your accident. Many would have sat back and decided not to do anything but you tried to achieve and you did. You turned your life around. There is a huge crowd here tonight, it’s a great day for the O’Reilly family and we thank you on behalf of the people of county Laois,” he said.
Deputy Leas Cathaoirleach Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald grew up in the same estate at the O’Reilly’s, Marian Place.
“What a man Gary is. He is so focused, never wavering in pursuit of his goal. Out of tragedy comes new strength, we are all so proud of you. I know co-ordination is a part of your sport and your grandparents were champion ballroom dancer, I’d like to remember them here tonight. You are getting married soon and I wish you and Hazel the very best in your future life together,” she said.
Also speaking in warm praise were Deputy Chief Executive Donal Brennan, Cllr Ollie Clooney Cathaoirleach of the Borris-in-Ossory Municipal District, and Cllr Padraig Fleming, Cathaoirleach of the Graiguecullen Portarlington Municipal District.
The event was followed by refreshments for all. A separate reception will follow for paralympic swimmer Nicole Turner in honour of her achievement.
See next Tuesday's Leinster Express for photos
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