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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kerry runner aims for 2020 Paralympics

Pictured at the Charleville International Half-Marathon were (l-r): Liz Leonard, Ross Gallagher, Cllr Ian Doyle and organiser Michael Herlihy. Copyright Sandra Quinn 2016. 
For many people, losing the majority of their sight as a teenager would knock them for six, but Kerry man Ross Gallagher has risen above his visual impairment and is now training in the hopes of gaining a place on the Irish team for the 2020 Paralympics.

The 28-year-old from Castleisland was speaking before the Charleville International Half-Marathon, which is described as the flattest and fastest half-marathon in Ireland. This was Ross’ first half-marathon and in total, he has now covered a total distance of almost 18,000 miles with his running.

Living with a visual impairment is a struggle for many, but perhaps more trying for those who develop the issue in later in life, as they were accustomed to seeing the beauty of the world and suddenly that gift was stripped from them.

“I had good sight until I was 15. Then my eyesight went from 30% down to 5% in one day. It was very hard and tough at first. I did have dark days, but I got over it,” Ross said.

Since he started running twelve years ago, Ross has become somewhat of an inspiration for those in his hometown in Kerry, those among the running community and people scattered all over the world and is fondly known to some as the Kerry superstar.

Liz Leonard and Ross Gallagher captured in action in Charleville by Kevin O'Connor. Picture Credit: Kevin O'Connor. 
Ross is a member of Gneeveguilla Athletics Club and Vision Sports Ireland and said that he wouldn’t be where he is now without the unyielding support from his family, friends and fellow runners.

He uses Facebook every day and said that he has met great people through it, but it also helps him to find guide runners and people to give him a drive to races, as he travels across the country to do the thing he loves most.

“I don’t let it stop me. You can’t, you have to get on with life and live life to the full,” Ross said.

Asked what running means to him, Ross summed it up in three powerful words; “Running, Passion, Life.”

As a pre-cursor to the Paralympics, Ross is aiming to complete his first marathon in two years, to tie in with his 30th birthday.

Ross trains every second day or two or three times a week and he depends on different guide runners to help him through the course and he is always striving for a Personal Best (PB).

He completed the Charleville race with Liz Leonard, who he has known for nearly a year and they had done a number of races together at that point. He also had the added advantage that with Liz working for An Post in Kilmallock and being from Bruff, she knew the course very well.

Liz and Ross celebrating at the finish line in Charleville. Picture Credit: Robert Green. 
Speaking about how you have to be on high alert while doing assisted running, Liz explained what is involved.

“This is my first year doing the running with Ross and it’s a learning curve for me. You have to be on the ball. You have to realise that you are his eyes 100% and you can’t take your eyes off him,” she said.

Liz started out cycling a few years ago and then started running. She is clearly a natural and was born to run, as she has completed 13 marathons and finished her first ultra marathon earlier this year.

“There are things you take for granted, like you could be coming up to something and see an overhanging tree and I’d have to tell him about that and also factor in that he’s on the inside and is taller than me. I’ve got to be careful and watch for a lot of things,” she said.

She added that she will count down the paces when they are coming up to different parts of the road, but she said that you have to be particularly vigilant when it comes to things like loose stones or something jutting out, as these could really damage Ross, if he isn’t expecting them.

While she said that it is great to run with Ross, Liz added that it has made her aware of different things, such as the problems of people parking on footpaths, as this completely throws Ross off and is equally dangerous for people in wheelchairs or people pushing prams, as they have to move out onto the main road.

“I love running and the people you meet. Everyone is helping everybody out on the route. This is like your second family without the complications. Ross is a great source of inspiration for people,” Liz concluded.

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