Category: Archive

Roomful of heroes

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Courage filled the four corners of the room. There were medals galore to prove its presence. And much else besides.

Hollywood presents a certain type of hero to the world: perfect body, flashy smile, the cool line. Tom Cruise in MI2 and a galaxy of others we call stars.

In the real world, however, heroes often come in less concocted guise.

Such was the case last week on the 35th floor of the Mutual of America building on Park Avenue.

The room was full of kids, and some who had left kiddom a little behind. The room was full of medals. And it was full of heroes.

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Days earlier, the youngsters had traveled from the other side of the Atlantic to take part in the annual New York State Physically Challenged Games on Long Island.

An Irish team has been coming to the games since 1987. This year, the Irish team brought along four guest athletes from Scotland to compete with physically challenged athletes from eight U.S. states and Canada.

Bravehearts all.

With the games successfully behind them, it was time for the young competitors to relax a bit and sample the myriad sights and sounds of Manhattan.

No better place to do that than a 35th floor room with big windows looking out over manic midtown.

No better way to get to the 35th floor than to roll up to the curb outside with an NYPD escort.

The curb was reserved for only the chosen few, Mutual President and CEO, Tom Moran, told the room.

He had hosted three Irish prime ministers in the building and they all had to double park.

Everybody in the room laughed at that one. The thought of a taoiseach getting ticketed seemed a slight matter in present company.

The young athletes enjoying their lunch on floor 35 deal daily with a life that doesn’t always afford such a privilege as easy parking in New York City.

Before they take part in the games, they have to consider the task of coping even more than usual with their varied conditions: spina bifida, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, spinal and leg injuries, loss of a limb, impaired hearing and sight.

Once this heightened level of coping is reached, the task of actually competing in the games can be the sole focus of effort.

It was a task that all had dealt with admirably given the number of medals being proudly displayed on floor 35.

This year’s team was especially notable for several reasons, not least for the fact that it included sisters Nicola and Laura Hamilton, who had survived the Omagh bombing. Not least because it included Denise Lehane from Cork, who suffered severe burns on her face and lost the sight of one eye when she was only 3.

The good news in the room was that Denise will be returning to New York in the near future for the first of a series of facial reconstructive surgery operations that should only broaden her already generous smile.

The even better news in the room was that a benefactor had already been found to foot the considerable bill for the operations.

The considerable bill for the lunch — which was attended by Margaret Pataki, mother of Gov. George — was the property of Mutual of America.

The view and all the Manhattan buzz was a free bonus, a memory to describe in detail to all back home.

And home they would go in a few days, the bemedaled and smiling members of Irish Youth Team 2000: Aoife Mangan, Carl Coogan and Evan Scully from Meath; Caroline Worthington, Christine Bourke, Ciara Hoolahan, Jennifer McCarthy, John Glynn, Kelly Masterson and David Parsons from Dublin; Darragh Tyrell and Keith Murphy from Wexford; Denise Lehane from Cork; Eilish Holton from Kildare; James McDonnell from Belfast; Nicola and Laura Hamilton from Tyrone; Mark O’Donohoe and Peter McGarry from Galway, and Michael Mairs from Derry.

Next month, a team of 20 physically challenged young athletes will travel from the U.S. to compete in Ireland’s version of the physically challenged games. No building in Ireland can boast 35 floors.

But youthful courage has many and varied rewards.

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