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04 Oct 2022

Tipperary Paralympic cyclist Peter Ryan takes insurance MD on breakneck Paris to Nice tandem bike odyssey

its4women MD Gary McClarty is the “pilot” and responsible for the brakes

Gary McClarty (left), MD of its4women, with Paralympian, Peter Ryan (right), at a tandem cycling training session in Clontarf, Dublin. The duo are taking part in the Driving the Cure fundraiser for Fi

Gary McClarty (left), MD of its4women, with Paralympian, Peter Ryan (right), at a tandem cycling training session in Clontarf, Dublin. The duo are taking part in the Driving the Cure fundraiser for Fi

It’s the unlikely story of When Peter Met Gary. A Paralympic cyclist, legally blind, and in his 30s, meets an insurance mogul, fully-sighted and in his 50s. Together they hatch a plan to jump on a tandem and embark on an epic challenge that will see them navigate 700km across sloping valleys, and sheer mountain tops, from Paris to Nice, this September.

Paralympian Peter Ryan, from Upperchurch, is the “stoker” and responsible for speed. its4women MD Gary McClarty is the “pilot” and responsible for the brakes. With neither man keen to take on too many risks – at least uninsured ones! – a strict training regimen has been developed for the pair between now and departure day.

The Paris2Nice Charity Cycle will get underway on September 10, starting in the stunning centre of the City of Light before finishing up six days later, on September 15, at the iconic Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Not a trek for the faint-hearted, the physics of a combined weight of 170kg on the bike means that the dynamic duo will be going up to 110kmh downhill.

Peter and Gary will have one mission in mind – Driving the Cure for Fighting Blindness – and an effort to raise over €10,000 for research that will provide future prevention approaches, treatments and cures for a spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases.

The Pro & the Novice
Speaking about this unlikely pairing for a great cause, Paralympic cyclist Peter Ryan, who was diagnosed with the optic nerve disease, Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, in 2010, and has approximately 10 per cent of his sight left, says:
“I’m not daunted by the physical side of riding over 700km. We’ll get through that. It’s the technical aspects of riding with someone I’ve never been with before on a tandem that will be the challenge. I have to admit descending Mont Ventoux in the Provence region is looking pretty daunting right now. I’ve been on a bike long enough to know it doesn’t take very much for things to go wrong. It can be the result of fatigue or it can be something random like a dog running out in front of you. I have no say on braking and so communication and trust will be key between us. The important thing will be for Gary to gain the confidence he needs so that we can both work, quite literally, in tandem.

On why Fighting Blindness is a cause close to his heart, Peter adds:

“When I started to lose my sight at age 19, I didn’t know how to be visually impaired as I had come from an able-bodied existence. I was isolated for a very long time. But Fighting Blindness was there for me and has given so much to me and to my family, from counselling to tech support. Thankfully things are in a good place now. I feel forever indebted for all the help that I received and it’s important to not forget that. Fighting Blindness is a great charity and hopefully we can raise lots of money.”

For novice cyclist and managing director of its4women, Gary McClarty, lockdown was the start of a love affair with the tandem bike. He is now ready to take this passion to the next level:
“During lockdown, I purchased a tandem so that my wife and I could go on some mini-adventures. We had some great fun even if she did end up in tears of frustration on occasion! I’m really looking forward to this challenge and we have set ourselves a fundraising target of over €10,000 for Fighting Blindness.

“Once in the saddle, the most important thing for me will be communication with Peter to make sure that we know exactly where we are going and what we’re doing so he can stop pedalling or push harder. The great thing is that I get to be the brake, while Peter gets to be the turbo! Peter is very fit and that energy, along with my adrenaline, will push me along!”

Ride Hard & Fast
International cycling coach, Anthony Walsh, will be guiding the duo to build up their bike-handling skills, techniques and stamina:
“Peter is an accomplished athlete and has the inside track on high performance, so Gary will be in good hands. Between now and September 10, Gary will need to get in at least six or seven hours’ training each week, which will go a long way to boost his confidence. It’s not easy riding a tandem and the lads will be coming down some pretty steep descents. You might think that by going slow to start with is a good idea, but a tandem doesn’t really respond well to that. My advice is for them to ride hard and fast off the block and to lean into it and go for it.”

For Neil Ward, Head of Advocacy & Communications, Fighting Blindness, this challenge will require nerves of steel:
“Driving the Cure for Fighting Blindness is undoubtedly a remarkable challenge and clearly is not for those of a nervous disposition! While Peter is well used to jumping in the saddle and riding like the wind, Gary will have a mountain to climb in terms of fitness, both literally and metaphorically, to be ready for the off. It will be demanding physically and mentally as they undertake not only the challenge itself but also the rigorous training needed ahead of departure. It’s worth acknowledging that Gary could have easily chosen our annual golf day as a gentle and relaxing way to assist with our fundraising, but instead he has opted for something much more ambitious and, some might even say, mad! Both Peter and Gary deserve our immense admiration and are real champions for the Fighting Blindness cause, which is hugely appreciated.”

Members of the public can lend their support to the Driving the Cure fundraiser for Fighting Blindness at www.idonate.ie/GaryAndPeter. For more information on Fighting Blindness, visit www.fightingblindness.ie, or follow on social as follows: Twitter @fight_blindness; Facebook @Fighting.Blindness.Ireland; and Instagram @FightingBlindness.

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