Seeking out the simple things

IT is seldom you meet someone that truely inspires you in life. Someone that takes the knocks and gets back up stronger, someone who has simple hopes for the future, someone who ignores the ignorance he encounters and someone who maintains a positive outlook in life. Martin Costello is one such man, a double gold paralympic medallist who has shown that through discipline and determination one can excel to extraordinary levels.

THE Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and as part of a specially commissioned book, Extraordinary Lives features the life story of a Kilkenny man, Martin Costello.

Martin is an affable, charming man who invites me into his home in Loughboy where he shares his life story with me. It is a story of great joy and times of endurance and sorrow. What is remarkable is the absence of bitterness about his tough childhood and the enthusiasm and zeal which Martin still has for life. He is a man who won’t be ‘walked on’ but also realises that the only real way to move forward is the let go of the past.

Martin, who has celebral palsy was born at St Mullins on the Kilkenny/Carlow border but has always considered himself a Kilkenny man. He grew up at St Mary’s Hospital in Baldoyle where he underwent 27 operations. The fourth youngest of 13 children Martin quite obviously adores his family and understands why his mother had no option but to send him there. “Back then there was no real choice and there was no money. They were different times,” he said. “It wasn’t the happiest time but it was the way it was and life is about looking forward,” he said of the tough regime he went through at Baldoyle.

Martin left there when he was 16 and went home to his mother in Graignamanagh. The 52-year-old beams when he speaks of Graignamanagh and the love and warmth of the people there. As I listen to his story Martin plays me some music and tells me that back in the seventies he was part of the Barrow Boys of Graig.

His love of sport stems back to his youth and the twice gold paralympic medallist also has a large number of other sports awards and is a former Kilkenny People/Hotel Kilkenny sportstar. He tried all sports but it was the shot-putt and javelin that he chose to pursue. He trained hard and through strict discipline and sheer determination managed to secure a place on the Irish team for the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul. His trainer didn’t believe in ‘disability’ (a term which Martin says makes his blood boil) and believed in discipline telling the young athlete that nobody remembers who comes second. Martin paid attention to this philosophy and returned home from Seoul with two golds and received a great welcome home he received in Graignamangh. “The people down there bought me my first car and they gave a hero’s welcome. The people of Graig have always been very good to me,” he said.

Martin oozes an honesty, that is unfortunately becoming a rarer quality in the times we live. He has achieved his aims in the sporting field and surpassed his expectations, setting two new world records. He was also crowned Irish champion on 16 occasions and was never beaten during that period. However he admits that each and every day he has to deal with the prejudices of others.

“Going back to the 1960’s people used to call people with celebral palsy spastics. Sometimes our muscles would go into spasm and people would think we were mad. Friends would laugh and say there’s Costello taking off as they would be aware of what was going on but some people can be really ignorant. Some people look at the wheelchair and not at the person. Only the other day two people moved away from me in a pub. They moved away because I was in the chair and I know that because I heard them pass a comment,” he said.

However Martin is not one to see the glass half empty and knows that you have to fend for yourself in order to get by. “If you don’t do it, nobody else will do it for you,” he says with a smile. “I see people for who they are. I have been through a lot and go through a lot every day but I stay positive. Anger only makes yourself worse, he said. However he admits to being lonely sometimes. “Lonlieness is a terrible thing. I have a lot of friends and my family are great but I would love to meet someone special. I suppose my ambition now is to get married, to find someone to share the simple things in life with,” he said.