Katie-George Dunlevy, a member of a well known Mountcharles family, was born in Crawley in England, but very much regards Donegal as her home from home, she visited recently and Matt Britton spent a lot of time in her company speaking to her. Here's Matt's feature story and some of the many phortographs he took during her visit
To represent your country, to put on the green jersey is every athlete's dream.
It’s something every sportsperson aspires to.
To win countless medals - bronze, silver, gold - is one thing. But to win World Championship titles is beyond even the wildest dreams of most.
However, one lady with strong Donegal blood in her veins has done just that, while battling with visual impairment.
Katie-George Dunlevy, a member of the well known Mountcharles family, was born in Crawley in England, but very much regards Donegal as her home from home.
A double world champion, a multiple medal winner at practically every level in the world of paralympic cycling, she has been spending her Summer holidays and indeed every opportunity she gets, in her father John Dunlevy's hometown of Mountcharles.
Not only has this remarkable 36-year-old reached the top of her field in cycling but she has also competed internationally in rowing, running and swimming and has all the medals to prove it, a fact that many were not even aware of.
Last weekend, during her visit to Donegal, she talked about many of her great memories and indeed, the challenges she faces almost on a daily basis.
“We are a large family of six girls and you can just imagine us all trooping over to Mountcharles in those early years,” she said.
“We were the ‘English relations’ and I suppose were a big novelty, both in Mountcharles and down in Glencolmcille.
“In those days we all piled into George’s on the Main Street. Where we all fitted is still a mystery to me but it never seemed an issue, they were just great times,
“George had the local pub, it was a great social hub and at times often served as the confessional box in the village. George’s wife was famous in her own right. She was the dressmaker to the rich and famous of the county and ladies came from far and wide for those very special outfits.”
Speaking of those summer months Katie-Groege recalled: “I have so many great childhood memories and it really is ironic that even with this visual impairment I can see them all so clearly.
“The long walks down the glen from the Main Street to the ‘wee pier’, climbing over the walls for a peek into the ‘big house’ swimming at the beach and then all walking over to the ‘big pier’ where we dived off the edge, fished for crabs and turned over many of the stones looking for eels.
“Our visits down to the McGinley’s in Faugher in Glencolmcille were equally memorable - climbing through the old ruins, exploring the many nooks and crannies and even taking in all the lyrical sounds of the Irish language.
“To one brought up in the area these would all be very normal pastimes but when you came from a large built up city like Crawley, these were just heaven-like.
“The one abiding memory that I carry with me to this day is the taste of red lemonade, Club Orange and that famous Cavan Cola - they made the visits all that more special.”
From a young age Katie-George knew there was something wrong with her sight but she just got on with things. “I wasn’t able to play in any team sports, I just kept bumping into people, but I just persisted, I didn’t really want to be any different.
“Eventually I went to a special school, something that I resisted at the start as I just wanted to be the same as everyone else. However, it was a pure blessing. I found acceptance, I realised that there were other people like me, if not worse and I started to focus much more on my strengths, I gained immense confidence.
“I realised that life is full of challenges for everybody. It really is OK not to be OK all the time!”
Katie-George's sporting achievements are well documented - Olympic silver and gold medalist, double world champion as well as competing internationally in other disciplines and adding to her collection of medals.
During these years did she manage any social life at all?
“Well at college I did the normal student thing, going out drinking, going to parties but being perfectly honest, sport was my social life. You are never alone.”
Katie-George realises that some time in the future she will probably lose her sight but has a totally positive approach to this.
“The way I see things is that either of us could walk out that door and be run over by a bus. Nothing is guaranteed in life and I like to take each day as it comes. One door often closes but you will find that another will also open.
“My condition is very stable at the moment and I have a lot of goals yet to achieve. We all have one life to live and my advice is to make the most of it. There is no point in adopting the ‘poor me’ syndrome. Today is today. We all live for the present and all each and everyone of us can do is try and influence the future. One thing we cannot do is guarantee it.”
Katie-George Dunlevy is a pure beacon of light in a sometimes chaotic world. Her optimism is infectious and her determination to succeed insurmountable.
She is s sheer inspiration to the many young people who may be facing challenges in life.
In her own words: “There is light at the end of that tunnel.”
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