Tales from Tokyo: ‘I went in there a nobody and came out a Paralympian’ says 63-year-old

  • “Isn’t it wonderful?” said Ireland’s Rosemary Jean Gaffney, who made her Paralympic debut at the Tokyo Games aged 63. “I went in as a nobody came out as a Paralympian rider.

    “To get to the Paralympics has been been a dream of mine all along, since I had my first accident in 2007. I’ve been reserve for the last two [Games], and this time I made it so I’m thrilled. I’m a late developer! I’ll definitely be back again. I’m on cloud nine.”

    Rosemary, who sustained serious multiple leg fractures and lasting damage as a result of falls in 2007 and 2014, partnered the 12-year-old Werona to a score of 65.39% in the grade IV individual contest.

    “She’s a super mare and she was really, really good,” said Rosemary, who co-owns the “very sweet” Painted Black daughter with Susan Smallman.

    “I was thrilled with the way the ride went. Obviously I’d like a little higher marks but you know, we will reflect on that one tomorrow. But for tonight, I couldn’t have asked her to be any better.

    “You know, it’s huge atmosphere in here, even though it’s empty. It’s a huge ask for any horse, particularly for her – she’s quite a hot mare, and she behaved herself so well. She never put her foot wrong, so I’m absolutely thrilled with her.”

    Rosemary, a lecturer at Kildalton College in Co. Kilkenny, added she received “amazing” support from the college.

    “All the students set up a WhatsApp group and the staff have been behind me all the way,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better employer to look after me and to look after the horses.”

    One of Rosemary’s students, Shannon Acheson, was also supporting in Tokyo as her groom.

    “She has just finished her course now, once we come back from Tokyo,” she said. “She stayed on to come to Tokyo with me, and she’s a wonderful young woman. She is very competent and very capable and she’ll be teaching the next generations.”

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