Oliver ‘Gunning’ for success

Oliver Gunning has already defied the medical experts to represent his country in the sporting arena and he is hoping that more success with follow.

Wednesday, 15th December 2021, 1:00 pm

The 17-year-old Ballyclare High School student was the youngest competitor at the last month’s World Triathlon final in Abu Dhabi.

Having raced on the international stage Gunning hopes to represent Northern Ireland at next summer’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and wear the Ireland jersey at the Paris 2024 Paralympics.

Gunning competes in Paratriathlon Visually Impaired Class B3 (PTVI B3) and is currently ranked 35th in the world. He finished 12th at this year’s European Triathlon Championships in Valencia, a remarkable feat considering as a child he was told he would never be able to compete in sport or lead a normal life.

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Oliver Gunning pictured with guide Tom Flaherty during the tandem element

“At the age of three, I was diagnosed with Congenital Glaucoma - a condition that went undetected for some time, leaving me virtually blind in my left eye and with no peripheral vision in my right (eye),” explained Gunning.

“I’ve had twenty-eight operations to date and was told from around the age of five that I’d never be able to live the life of a normal kid.

“I wouldn’t be able to ride a bike, learn to swim, drive a car, or play any type of competitive sports.”

Gunning wasn’t going to let his condition hold him back from doing what he wanted and very soon he started to take up disciplines that he was told he could never participate in.

“Against all the odds (and advice!), I was taught how to ride a bike wearing a full-face helmet, introduced to guided running and was taught the life-saving skill of learning to swim,” he explained.

“Now with all these sporting skills in check, I have upped my game and have been in a rigorous training programme with Triathlon Ireland the last few years.

“Representing Ireland in September in Valencia at the European Triathlon Championships, achieving a 12th place finish in a world class field including six Paralympians, and further races in Alhandra, Portugal (11th) and the World Triathlon Championship Final in Abu Dhabi on 5th November (13th).

“I was the youngest para competitor at the World Finals this year.

“I have been helped along the way so far through Sport Northern Ireland, the Mary Peters Trust and various other sponsors.

“My short-term goal is to get selected for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next year, and after that the Paralympics in Paris 2024.”

Not only has Gunning had to overcome medical constraints he is also battling financial ones which means he is at a disadvantage against other competitors.

“The tandem bike I currently use to train and race, is on loan and has had three previous owners, it isn’t built for someone of my height and is over 10 years old,” said Gunning.

“The last owner was seven inches shorter than me, meaning that I’m training and racing on a bike that doesn’t fit, therefore I am unable to maximise my position and output on the bike.”

Gunning is hoping the generosity can help him achieve his goal of reaching the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

“I need to move up the world rankings by getting International Triathlon Union (ITU) points, but I can only get these if I’m on the start line,” he said.

“I need the right equipment to train and the financial backing to get to the races.”

“I have started to fundraise for a new racing tandem bike which includes frame/wheels/aero bars/gearsets/seats/pedals/power meters/setup.

“My journey can be followed on instagram and facebook, oliver_gunning_triathlete, Oliver Gunning Triathlete.”

If anyone would like to help Oliver on his Commonwealth Games and Olympic journey check out his fund raising page https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/tandembikeforvisuallyimpairedtriathlete