Look out for a charging Rhino at the Paralympics

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Irish Sonar skippered by John Twomey in 2000
Jessica Statham
To watch Paul Ryan (IRL) swing from a crane onto his Sonar or bound from the dock to the boat, you would never guess that the one-legged Irishman had broken nearly every bone in his body and had spent almost two years in a wheelchair.

Rhino is his nickname, but he swings from high places like a monkey. Before his motorcycle accident he was a boxer and a hurler; definitely someone you wouldn’t want to mess with.

About 10 years ago, Ryan met Paul McCarthy (IRL), who had also been disabled in a motorcycle accident. McCarthy recruited Ryan to sail with him at the 2002 IFDS World Championships in Medemblik, Holland where they finished 8th. They competed in a Paralympic test event in Athens in 2003 and in the 2004 Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta and missed qualifying for the 2004 Paralympics with John Twomey (IRL).

McCarthy had been Twomey’s bowman in Sydney and was the alternate to the squad in Athens. Twomey’s boat was too badly damaged during shipping to race it in the 2004 Paralympics. He phoned McCarthy and asked McCarthy if he could bring his own boat to Athens for the event. It took McCarthy four days to haul the boat and travel nearly 1.000 miles by ferry and 2,500 miles over land to deliver the sonar from Cork, Ireland to Athens, Greece. McCarthy did not get to sail in the 2004 Paralympics, but he received the International Fair Play Award for his sportsmanship and efforts.

Richard Whealey’s (IRL) disabled sailing baptism came during the 2006 Clagett Regatta in Newport, Rhode Island. In return for enduring two back to back five-race days, Whealey received a bronze medal. Since then, the team has had a run of trophy deserving performances. 'I’m like a magpie. I keep coming back for silver and gold and bling. They sold me the dream of going to fancy places where they have beach volleyball tournaments at every regatta,' laughs Whealey. 'Once you join the team, you’re committed.'

The team of Ryan, McCarthy and Whealey outperformed the other disabled Sonar team with Twomey at the helm in a series of four regattas during 2007 and 2008 to be selected by the Paralympic Council of Ireland as the Sonar team for the 2008 Paralympic Sailing Regatta in Qingdao. Rhino was sick during the 2007 IFDS World Championships and the team did poorly.

With Rhino back on the squad for the 2008 Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta, their performance improved with every race and the team finished third in the regatta. Twomey, who has represented Ireland more than any other Olympian or Paralympian, joined Amy Kelehan (IRL) in the SKUD 18. This will be Twomey’s ninth Paralympic outing.