For thousands of sports lovers around the world, Seán Baldwin is truly living the dream.
Not only is he passionate about his sport and dedicates hours of his days, weeks and months to it, but he also has had the honour of representing his country at numerous Para-Shooting World Cups and indeed, at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
Now, with his hopes firmly set on representing Ireland at Rio 2016 (with the official team to be announced on July 5th), the Kildare man talks to us about a life focused on targets – in more ways than one.
For him, it’s not just about shooting, it’s not just about medals and it’s not just about hard work and training. For him it’s something more.
It’s More Than Sport.
Here’s his story.
“I am in the military now almost 31 years,” the 48-year-old reflected. “Shooting is part of military skills and for a long time, I saw shooting as my job and not necessarily a sport. Soon after that, when I was about 34, I met my friend (and now coach) Ray Kane. He was giving a demonstration on Olympic Target Rifle Shooting and I fell in love with how technical it was and how precise everything has to be in order to shoot a perfect score.
“Then, Liam Crawford introduced me to Paralympics Ireland in 2011, approximately eight years after the day that changed everything for me – November 27th, 2003, the day I became an above-the-knee amputee. I lost my leg while I was serving with the Irish Defence Forces and when I got to hospital after the accident, I remember being told lots of bad news – the first of this being they told me I only had a few hours to live! I’m still here though!
“After I woke up from an induced coma, I then realized how bad my injuries were – the most obvious of these was that l had lost my right leg from above the knee. When I realized what had happened to me, I found it very hard to find a bright side but that didn’t stop me from looking. However, this was the day I remember lying in my bed and setting new goals for myself. These goals were:
1. To be able to sit up in bed by myself.
2. To be able to get into, and use, a wheelchair.
3. To get out of a wheelchair and use crutches to get about – which took about six months to accomplish.
4. To walk – which took another two months.
5. To get back to work.
6. To get into sports.
“It took me two years to be strong enough to take up shooting,” he continued. “Now, I have lots more goals. I set goals and reset them all the time and that’s why More Than Sport means a lot to me. It is more than sport and if I can inspire a generation or even just one person to take up a sport and become an elite athlete I have done my job.
“I often dreamed about representing my country. I took the sport seriously from the beginning, but it was years before I realized that I might be able to compete on an international level.
“I train extremely hard now for this and sometimes, I have a love/hate relationship with it. The days that aren’t going well are the days I hate it, but I always get up the next morning and focus, smile and start again. I strive for perfection – and that’s the part of the sport I love the most.
“Up to now, the stand out moment for me was the London Paralympic Games in 2012. With a lot of hard work, I got the opportunity to represent the people of Ireland as Ireland’s first Paralympic Target Rifle Shooter at these Games.
“In order to get there though, you really need to believe in yourself. You need to be focused. You need to train hard to constantly improve skills and it takes a dedication and love for the sport. You need to be mentally and physically able, for as the saying goes ‘a healthy mind is a healthy body’. Most importantly, you have to enjoy the whole experience.”
“I have always had a competitive nature no matter what sport I was involved in. I wanted to be the best I can be. I never focus on negative criticism but I do listen to constructive criticism. My injuries are an obvious barrier but I don’t focus on what I can’t change. I try to find the correct balance between everything going on in my life, so for the moment, I’m focused on time management.
“Now, my preparations are on target and to schedule. It is hard to believe the preparations for Rio started five years ago. Training is going to plan, but there have been down sides which I had to work through, for example, my equipment malfunctioned more than three times this year while competing internationally, but I dealt with it and moved on.
“Looking back on my life to date, there are moments I would relive and moments I would like to go back and change. For example, East Timor in 1999 was a moment I would definitely relive. To be able to help and return families to their villages and loved ones, when it seemed all hope was lost for them really defined my career as a soldier.”
“It’s humbling to represent your country in any sport and competition but to represent your country at the biggest event in your sport and to hopefully now do it twice is a dream come true.
“I would like to thank Pamela, my family and friends, my coach Ray and my manager Liam and all who follow and support me in my endeavours.”