Cycling To Para Dreams
Damien Vereker / Martin Mizgajski
Damien Vereker is visually impaired and cycles with Comeragh Cycling Club. He is coached by Martin Kirwan of Focus On Fitness and has progressed from local and national races to competing internationally.
Now Damien and his pilot Marcin Mizgayski are on the panel for the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016, but to get there they need your help…..here is their journey so far!
About The Team
Damien had been out on a tandem that the Comeragh Cycling Club owned, but was anxious to progress from leisure cycling to racing. Martin Kirwan was contacted and asked if he would go to a race with him to pilot the bike.
They went to Blarney and won the tandem section that day. The excitement and disbelief when Damien found out he had won was incredible. When they went up for the prize Martin had to describe to him what the prize looked like.
Building on this first race – and success – Martin worked on Damien’s fitness; he lost extra weight, gained tone and strength, and by 2013 was awarded the being crowned Most Improved Rider.
Next, it was realised that a change of equipment was needed in order to progress.
Making it unfunded
Damien is not a funded athlete so he has to fundraise to progress, and it was at the end of 2013 that he reached a level where he could no longer support himself alone.
The fundraising began with a spinathon in City Square, Waterford. This was followed by a night in the Mansion House, Waterford and, along with some company sponsorship, enough money was raised to purchase that essential new bike.
The cost of the bike was about €9,000, but this was quickly recouped when the following year, 2014, they won the Invacare League in Ireland and travelled to race abroad, getting some invaluable international experience.
To fund the 2015 racing season, a sponsored cycle was organised for December 28, 2014. Damien and Martin cycled from Malin Head to Waterford, on the tandem, in 13hrs. A relay of 5 groups of 2 kept the tandem going all the time to complete the journey as quickly as possible. Initially the plan was to do it in 12 hrs, but the weather was terrible, with snow and ice on the road and temperatures dropping to -4C.
Thanks to the funding raised on that journey, they were able to compete in Belgium, Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic in 2015, however, during the season Martin realised a new pilot was needed for the bike so he stepped down and Marcin Mizgayski was recruited to pilot.
They finished third in Prague, which was a massive result, and it hasn’t stopped there; with Martin Kirwan’s dedicated coaching the team have continued to perform.
For this season a new bike was purchased and travel costs were fundraised too, all thanks to a great night in Kilcohan Park Greyhound Stadium, which had local hurlers, cyclists and runners racing around the dog track.
In early May, Damien and Marcin headed to Pietermaritzburg in South Africa, where they won the Gold Medal at the 2016 UCI Paracycling World Cup.
It was a magnificent result and all the more remarkable due to their unfunded, independent standing. Damien has now been shortlisted for Cycling Ireland’s Rio 2016 Paralympics squad.
At present they have top ranking, but Damien and Marcin must race in Belgium and Spain before the final selection is made. Damien now has an amazing opportunity ahead.
All events, equipment, training, maintenance, and travel necessary to reach this point has been funded through donations and fundraising efforts of friends, family, and local businesses – now we are into the final push to the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
Any donation or sponsorship will be gratefully received.