This should have been a very different week for John Fulham and the team at Paralympics Ireland.
At this very moment, Fulham and Team Ireland should have been in Tokyo, soaking in the competition and atmosphere of the Paralympic Games while battling it out for medal positions.
Nothing this year has panned out the way anyone expected. What should have been a bountiful year for Irish sport has been clouded in uncertainty.
Yet there is little time to reflect on what could have been for Paralympics Ireland President John Fulham, despite his obvious disappointment.
“It was the right decision as far as I’m concerned. There was no way they could have ploughed ahead with the games. Don’t get me wrong, it’s disappointing. I’m disappointed but it was inevitable.
“Each athlete has been working for years to get to this point. They had mapped out their training, their competition, everything was geared towards qualifying for Tokyo.
“It’s circumstances we’ve never come across before. The last time the Games were canceled was during World War II. A lot of people were dealing with entirely new circumstances.”
The best way to focus following such a sudden and sharp turn in their plans is to accept what has happened and concentrate on the little information they have to go on, according to Fulham.
“It’s about accepting that this is happening, first of all. And then controlling what you can control, because there are so many variables out there. When I’m asked questions about this, I can only give guesses and estimates. There’s a lot of crystal ball gazing going on because things are constantly changing.
“We’re waiting for schedules for different sports as to when they’re going to be able to come back. And when they do come back, what is their competition schedule going to be like for next year? So there’s, there’s so much to play because the athletes then will have to build around that.
“There so many more precautions that they have to take. We’ve got a really strong medical team in there who have been giving us great guidance and great advice and helping the athletes adapt.
“For a lot of them, the clarity was the important thing. It’s not happening this year, let’s take that stress out of the equation. So now that we know, we can control what we control, which means we started looking at what we know and how we rebuilt.
“So from their point of view, it’s a difficult thing, but they’ve got a lot of support around them to do it. I’m not downplaying the challenge, but at least they know. And then it’s the same from an organizational perspective, but on unprecedented circumstances.
Fulham is no stranger to the Paralympic Games and knows very well the impact they have on athletes, coaches, and the wider audience. He competed at four Paralympic Games from Barcelona 1992 through to Athens 2004 as a wheelchair racer over 100m and 200m.
He was elected as President of Paralympic Ireland in 2017 and his four-year term is winding to a close.
“It’s certainly an honour [to be President]. I did it because I care passionately about Paralympic Sports and I just thought it was a natural step. I wanted to see what I could do, what I could bring and how I could support it.
“Hopefully I’ve been able to bring something to it. I’ve been around so long at this stage that I will be stepping down at the end of this cycle. It’s my time to go. I’ll always be there to support Paralympics Ireland in whatever way I can. And it certainly has been a real honour.
“But I didn’t envisage or anticipate that we’d be faced with the circumstances that we have now. But look, we have a very strong board and a very strong team inside. So I’m comfortable that the organization is being looked after and the athletes, more importantly, and the coaches are being well looked after.
Ireland has had incredible success at the Paralympic Games in modern times. From Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop to the new generation of stars like Ellen Keane, there has no shortage of impressive performances and medals at the various Games.
More importantly, these athletes have transformed into role models. Ideal examples of how you can live life without barriers.
Fulham is confident that Paralympic Sport will continue to inspire in the years to come. Not just the younger generation who are watching their heroes achieve their dreams but also those whose lives have taken a very sudden turn.
“It is so true that you need role models to encourage people to become involved, but it’s more visionary than that. Everyone needs to have role models to be able to believe that you can do it, to be able to believe that it’s possible to push the boundaries and encourage you to actually want to be there.
“It’s not just those coming through from childhood, but it’s also older people who have acquired a disability and suddenly are faced with circumstances where they think that their life is over. Whereas actually, no, it’s not. There’s a whole world of opportunity, the world is your oyster.”