DOUBLE paralympic gold medalist, Dr. Michael McKillop delivered an ‘inspirational’ talk to a group of St Columb’s College students last week as part of the innovative Sky Sports ‘Living for Sport’ Project.
The Belfast sprinter has been recruited as an ‘Athlete Mentor’ for the initiative aimed at building confidence and getting more young people involved in sport.
And St. Columb’s College has signed up for this year’s project - which is free to secondary schools - and plans are currently underway to organise ambitious sporting events in the city.
A cross-community basketball competition and a large scale ‘Sports Day’ for both secondary and primary schools are just two of the ideas put forward by the pupils as part of the scheme.
McKillop is one of 11 Athlete Mentors who has joined Ireland’s ‘Living for Sport’ Ambassador, Olympic amateur boxing gold medalist, Katie Taylor, in sharing the story of the challenges and achievements on their own journeys to success.
A total of 20 Year 13 pupils got the opportunity to meet the World and Paralympic T37 800m champion at a special assembly at the school and he plans on returning for a second visit in the near future.
McKillop, a close friend of Eglinton’s double gold Paralympic sprinter, Jason Smyth, spoke to the group about his career and why volunteering and leadership had such a great impact on him as an athlete.
And St. Columb’s College’s Sport Development Officer, Mr James Green was delighted with the impact McKillop’s visit had on the students.
Explaining how the project came to fruition Mr Green said: “I came across the project in an advert on television and I followed it up.
“Sky Sports select an athlete mentor to help the pupils you’ve selected and make sure it’s going to be a success.”
And how did he select the 20 pupils needed to participate in the scheme?
“The school run a Community Sports Leadership course and 20 boys from Year 13 are involved in that,” he said. “They do that over the whole year so it was natural to pick those boys for this project.
“It was an incentive for those boys to improve and volunteer and get others interested in the course for next year.
“The ultimate aim is to get them volunteering in their local community. All of the boys are already involved in volunteering for local clubs, be it soccer, Gaelic football, rugby or whatever. But it’s an opportunity for them to give something back.” It’s also hoped the project will inspire pupils and encourage them to apply the life lessons they’ve learned through success in sport to their everyday lives.
A former St. Malachy’s, Belfast student, McKillop proved to be the perfect mentor for the College boys according to Mr Green.
“I thought, initially, he was going to talk about what he has achieved, but he had a much greater interest in the pupils and turned it on its head.
“He made it all about the pupils and he did it in a fun way as well. He spoke really well and I was really impressed.”
The St. Columb’s boys have got the ball rolling on the first of their projects - a cross community basketball event - and Mr. Green is excited about the prospect.
“We’ve got a couple of things in the pipeline. The first is a cross community basketball competition.
“We’re hoping that will be towards the end of March and we’ll invite all the local Secondary Schools and possibly the odd Primary School.
“We’ll probably bring them to the Templemore Sports Complex and give them a chance to play against each other and meet boys and girls from different sides of the track, so to speak.
“And before the end of the year we’re hoping to get an event involving as many primary schools as possible,” he concluded.