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Against All Odds: Irish Gymnast Kieran Behan Becomes an Olympian

Kieran Behan. Gymnastics Ireland.

By Catherine Davis, July 27, 2012

When he was eight years old, Kieran Behan developed a passion for gymnastics. Two years later, a botched operation on his leg did permanent nerve damage to his foot, almost dashing his dream in its infancy. Bound to a wheelchair, he was taunted by classmates, and was warned by doctors that he might never walk again. He did recover, however, and 15 months later, he was back in the gym working towards his Olympic goal. A moving story of perseverance and triumph in its own right, this was only the first obstacle among many that Kieran faced on his unbelievable journey to the 2012 Olympic Games.

Just months after his recovery, Kieran hit his head on the high bar during practice, severely damaging the vestibular area of his brain – the area which controls balance. Back in a wheelchair, he had to relearn how to make even the simplest movements. His mother, Bernie, tells The Telegraph,“the slightest untoward movement could make him black out…It happened thousands of times, terrifying anyone who saw it.” He missed an entire year of school, eventually returning with a walking stick. Again, other students made fun of him. Again, he recovered well enough to continue with gymnastics, despite the doctors’ predictions.

Neither broken bones nor a torn ACL could get the better of him. However, a second ACL tear threatened to be the injury that would finally wear Kieran down. But he pushed through, winning three World Cup medals, including Ireland’s first World Cup gold medal, in floor exercises. For the London Games, Kieran will be competing at floor exercises, the vault, and the horizontal bar. He knows that winning a medal is unlikely, given the world-class competition. But for Kieran, who at 23 has realized the fantasy he crafted when he was only eight years old of being an Olympic gymnast, victory is already his.

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