“He’s so far ahead of everyone else”
SPORTS stars love their sport, whoever is doing it, and can always be called upon to help a talented athlete in need of sports funding.
The fanbase and sponsors they have built up through the minefield of their own careers are passionate about the sport their star excels in too, so when that athlete gets behind another, they follow.
Recently we began a sports funding campaign for junior gymnast Rhys McClenaghan, who needs in excess of £3,000 to cover the costs of training for, travelling to and competing at the European Youth Olympics Festival in Tibilsi, Georgia this July.
The 15-year-old did not start this campaign himself, it was set up by his coach, the successful international gymnast Luke Carson, who has hailed the Northern Ireland youngster as “ahead of everyone else”.
He is already a three-time UK School Games medalist and has secured a place on the Irish 2016 Olympic Training Squad with his world-class pommel horse routines.
“Although he is only 15 years old he is doing high performance routines with a special talent on the pommel horse,” Carson explains. “Rhys’s pommel routine is bigger than a lot of senior international gymnasts, with him being able to complete one of the hardest skills in the world on pommel horse, a triple Russian on one handle. This is the same skill that brought huge success to Team GB gymnast Louis Smith, helping him win an Olympic medal and London 2012.”
Carson feels McClenaghan has the potential and drive to go all the way in gymnastics and is targeting the EYOF in July, but with no sports funding available for juniors in the sport, his costs have to be entirely supported by his family, who are struggling to afford to keep him on the right path towards achieving his full potential.
He explained: “Why am I supporting him? He’s a head of everyone else. His work ethic, his determination, his motivation is far superior to that of most people his age. He already shows many qualities of a senior gymnast. I know that he’s serious about gymnastics, he shows me that every day.
“Before I set up at Rathgael Gymnastics Club in Bangor, his mother was driving him an hour down the road to Lisburn to train. And she’d have to wait for him and drive him home; that’s six hours, every day, just to train.”
He added: “I can see him, with the correct coaching on my part, going the full way. Not just going to Worlds and Olympics and Commonwealth Games as a competitor, but pushing for medals. But because there is no funding available for him as a junior, it is very hard to raise the money he needs to get to the competitions.”
The EYOF is the target because a medal there qualifies McClenaghan for sports funding from the Irish Olympic Council, but he needs backers to get there in the first place.
“If he gets a medal at the EYOF, which has never been done before by an Irish gymnast, he opens himself up to some pretty decent funding from the Irish Olympic Council,” says Carson, “but he needs funds to get to the EYOF to compete for that medal and funding. It’s a vicious circle.”
Don’t believe Carson? See McClenaghan in action for yourself in this video, including that triple Russian on one handle at around 2’28”.