JOE Backpacking Diary #24 - Meeting Ireland's amazing Paralympic heroes in Rio 6 years ago

JOE Backpacking Diary #24 - Meeting Ireland's amazing Paralympic heroes in Rio

A humbling few days in Rio.

My name is Joe Harrington; I'm travelling through Central and South America for eight months, here's what happened during week 23.


Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (continued)

The weekend in Rio was pretty quiet until I linked in with my Tyrone pals Niall and Alannah on Sunday afternoon.

We were dilly-dallying all day and eventually met up at around 4.30pm at a cafe in Copacabana.

We felt it was too late to go to a tourist spot like the Botanic Gardens or Parque Lage so I came up with the bright idea of getting a subway to Lapa because they hadn't been there yet.


The plan was to visit the arches and the Escadaria Selaron and chill out there for a few hours before heading back to Copacabana.

We did visit the arches and we did check out the Escadaria Selaron, but that's where the plan unravelled.

The reason for the escalation of that night - Caipirinhas.

Caipirinhas are a famous national cocktail in Brazil and they're made from crushed limes, ice, sugar and cachaca (the alcohol).


As my buddy Austin Geary would say, "it's rocket fuel lad."

Lapa was pretty dead to be honest, but we had a fantastic night having the craic amongst ourselves and with a few locals.

The gentleman below was a real hero, he owned one of the stalls on the street and he invited us over for the chats and he fended off any dodgy lads that came near us.

He knew all about Conor McGregor from the Jose Aldo fight and, despite that, he seemed to have a pretty positive opinion of Ireland.



As I said in these diaries before, Lapa is basically a street party with some bars and clubs for people who want that option.

Here are a few photos from Sunday night to give you an idea of what the place is like.


A bar in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro


A popular samba bar in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro


The famous arches in Lapa on a quiet night

The next morning was tough enough, but I was grand by lunchtime and in work-mode because the Paralympics were very much on the horizon.

I spent the day researching the athletes and planning my schedule for the next two weeks, the less glamorous part of the job.

The next morning I set off for Barra de Tijuca where the Paralympic Village is located as well as a number of competition venues.

I reached the media centre just in time for a press conference that included Ireland's double Gold medalist in London, Jason Smyth.

Jason is one of the faces of the games in Rio and he spoke so impressively in front of the world's media.

His 100 metre semi-final is on Thursday evening, I cannot wait to see "The Fastest Paralympian on the Planet" run in the Olympic Stadium in Irish colours.

After the press conference I strolled into the Athletes' Village for a look around.

It has the apartment blocks, obviously, but it also has a post office, supermarket, a cafe, a bank and... it has a McDonald's.


McDonald's in the Paralympic Village in Rio

The food at the competition venues was pretty average during the Olympics and I expect similar for the Paralympics so I said I'd take advantage to this opportunity.

The place was rammed.


If it's good enough for Usain Bolt, it's good enough for anyone. In case you're wondering, I got a Big Mac and it was glorious. It's been a while.

I bumped into the CEO of Paralympics Ireland Liam Harbison and double Gold medalist in London Michael McKillop just after getting my food and we'd a great chat.

Michael told me the accomodation is grand and he has no issues with it.

He was so relaxed telling me about his prep, cheat meals and the big bag of sweets Jason Smyth is going to get stuck into on Friday night. A real character.


The Paralympic Village in Rio

After inhaling the Big Mac and chatting to some of the Irish media, I walked 10 minutes down the road to a hotel where I'd arranged to interview some of the athletes.

Orla Barry, Phillip Eaglesham and Sean Baldwin spoke to me separately over the course of two hours and it was a really humbling experience for me.

All three of them have overcome massive personal setbacks and bounced back to reach the highest level of Paralympic sport.

I had a great chat with Orla, who won Bronze in the Discus in London, about her journey to Rio as well as telling her about everyone I know in East Cork. The classic Irish conversation.

Phillip is competing in shooting and he's a really amazing guy. He contracted Q Fever in Afghanistan six years ago and his condition has been slowly deteriorating since, but he has shown courage and talent in equal amounts to qualify for Rio 2016, his first Paralympic Games.

Sean Baldwin, from Kildare, is also on the shooting team. Himself and Phillip have a wonderful comradery and were bouncing off each other for the whole time I spent with them.

Watch this video to find out more about Sean, who is competing in his second Paralympics.

There will be videos with Phillip and Orla in the next week on where you can find out more about their stories and their hopes for Rio 2016.

I also want to mention that Phillip is raising awareness online about mental health using the hashtag #PhilsBeard

He's asking athletes, volunteers, supporters and media to wear a fake beard to support the campaign (more details here).

Here I am with a beard I can only dream of growing.

I spent yesterday morning out at the Velodrome in Barra de Tijuca watching the Irish Para-Cycling team training.

The arena is beautiful and, according to a few people, the track is in great condition, fast and smooth, so it should make for an exciting few days there.

I briefly spoke to Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal just after they finished training and I had a longer in-depth chat with Damien Vereker and Sean Hahessy.

Damien is from Kilkenny and Sean is from Tipperary so Sunday evening was awkward but they're both feeling good.

Keep an eye out for a video package with the two guys on JOE today (Thursday).

It was an incredibly special night for all of the Paralympics Ireland family last night as the Opening Ceremony took place in the Maracana.

Four years of hard work and dedication from everyone involved has led to this.

There's real optimism in the camp that they can win medals here in Rio. I'm looking forward to following the team's journey over the next 12 days, it's going to be amazing.

Thanks for reading.


If you know anyone that will be in Rio for the Paralympics in September, tell them to get in touch with me on Twitter or at

Read about my travels through Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Rio by clicking here.

The National Dairy Council has partnered with the Irish Institute of Sport to share how top Irish Athletes are built by protein but powered by dairy. To learn more about the importance of dairy in sports nutrition, click here or see the hashtag #poweredbydairy