Domaine du Sourire caught up with Danny Furey, retired Scottish Paralympian. Scottish born Danny competed in the 1988 Seoul Olympics and was selected for the Barcelona Paralympics in 1992.
Impressions on meeting this inspirational man are his wonderful sense of humour, indomitable Christian spirit and genuine humility. Danny has communication challenges, but this does not inhibit him being great company, his great-nephew Daniel said of him “he is the type of guy you could sit and listen to for hours! He has filled his life with so many adventures, the stories never run dry.” You cannot walk away untouched by this man whose smile is infectious and whose heart almost explodes with a care for others.
Danny told me he was born in June 1950 in Dundee, the youngest of three. Danny went on to say:
“I was born with Cerebral Palsy as a result of the rhesus syndrome which then was called the blue baby syndrome. I lived, some didn’t. Some are physically impaired, whereas some have mental problems, and yet some have both. I lived at home for the first 5 years then it was suggested that I go to a special school in Edinburgh where I boarded until I was 16 years old getting home for the school holidays, it was tremendous strain on my family especially mum & dad.”
What drew you into wheelchair racing?
“I never thought of entering wheelchair athletics until I was 31 or32. I can’t remember exactly what drew me to competitive racing because my first love was football in sports, which was out for me. Although now they have wheelchair football and wheelchair rugby which, with my competitiveness, would have been a bit dangerous. Had these sports come earlier I might not have been here to tell the tale!”
As Danny has said he began competitive wheelchair racing in the early 1980’s, in the days before special racing chairs or Paralympic Games.
He raced for 10 years, becoming known as one of the world’s finest foot-pushing wheelchair racers of the time before being selected for the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the Barcelona Paralympic Games in 1992.
Twenty-nine Scottish athletes were selected for the GB team for the Paralympic Games in 1988. Over four thousand competitors from sixty-one nations took part and for the first time Paralympians accessed the same stadia and were supported by the same officials as the Olympians of 1988. I asked Danny:
What did it feel like to be selected to represent your country at the Seoul Olympics?
“Depends on what you mean by country, I gained a lot from my Scotland selection but didn’t fancy the British set up. It was an honour to be selected for GB, but the experience taught me from the organisation of the BPA it didn’t really inspire unity among the different disability groups that were represented.”
Richard Brickley MBE – President Disability Sport Fife told me “I was in Seoul in South Korea in 1988 with Danny. It was his finest hour and the last occasion when foot pushing wheelchair athletes competed at the Paralympic Games. Danny’s greatest rivals were Danish, Irish and American. The great Dane, as he was known, was the world champion. Danny was the most likely athlete to defeat him over 200 metres. Danny pushed forward and the Great Dane pushed backwards. The result of the race is irrelevant but my memory of these two amazing athletes at full speed never deviating from their lanes will remain with me forever. The crowd in the packed stadium in Seoul were on their feet. One of the great moments in Para Athletics.”
In each direction travelling for team GB must have been a gruelling journey for athletes and support staff alike. I asked Danny:
Danny, how did you manage the challenges of travelling to a foreign country?
“Quite well, but there were some of us that suffered a lot of jet lag including me. My body clock was all over the place. I was waking up at 3am thinking it was time to get up and dressed, then having to reverse the whole process. That’s just one of the issues I felt personally. Our wheelchairs and the stuff that we needed for training with came about two days after we arrived. I remember we were told not to eat anything like beef burgers because they might be cat or dog, and they told us if a policeman said stop, he would mean it by showing us his gun!”
What Danny hasn’t said is that for many of the team it was a demanding journey of moving and handling in the most confined of spaces. For all the team, Seoul was a steep learning curve. So, I asked Danny if he felt travelling had improved.
Do you think transport and services for people with disabilities has improved?
“Mainland Britain and Northern Ireland could do with some improvement particularly with public transport. It seems that public buildings are catching up, but some structures need access improvement even for some ambulant. I feel those with mental health issues and the visually impaired are most catered for but there is room for improvement here too.”
Danny does not believe in sitting back waiting for others to take action, either. In an unfortunate incident Danny got stuck in a church toilet in 2014. While struggling with his wheelchair he fell and got stuck, waiting 20 minutes before someone came to help.
He told Dundee’s Evening Telegraph in 2014, “I’ve never been one to sit around and wait for others to do things, so I decided to take the matter into my own hands.”
Staging a sponsored wheelchair run around Dundee, he raised more than £1,000 to hire an architect to draw up plans for new toilets. Despite dreadful weather on the day – pouring rain with thunder and lightning – unwavering, Danny completed his wheelchair marathon. He said he was “determined to do it regardless.”
What would be the top thing you would like to see improved in services for disability?
“More training in the caring side and more awareness what caring for people with disabilities requires, not treating everyone with the same brush remembering that disability comes with many varied and different caring needs.”
Danny believes that it’s not just able-bodied people who need to work to improve services, he went on to say:
“Disabled people need to learn that sometimes things will still be out of reach and able-bodied people are not at their beck & call.”
What are your most prominent challenges and how do you overcome them?
“Accepting the way that I need more support, sometimes it seems as if everything is being stripped away but I guess that’s goes for all people whether they’re disabled or not. This is where my faith makes me able to cope, as a Christian I find strength in knowing that Jesus is always with me and no matter what comes up I find peace when I lean on Him. Many times, in the hurly burly of life I don’t think that God hears me but in my heart of hearts I know that He’s just a prayer away. Someday, I know that I will know what my life has been all about.”
Having begun fundraising for new toilets for his church in 2014, Danny has gone on to raise funds for other charities, one being the Uphill Trust a small Scottish charity founded in January 2015 to support the development of Uphill Junior School, located in Uganda. I asked Danny,
I hear you still do some wheelchair racing, why is it important to you to do these charity races?
“Children. Especially children who don’t have much of a chance in life. In places like Uganda they have less of a chance because their dreams have been shattered before they dream them.”
He went on to correct me,
“I don’t race any more, I just do little marathons around Dundee accompanied by my wife Liz who has started doing them as well.”
These “little marathons” are at least 10K!
What keeps you motivated?
“And knowing that no matter what comes up, no matter what’s been taken away, I will always have Jesus. Friends mean a lot, but I’d better put your Auntie, who just happens to be my wife Elizabeth”, and he continued, laughing, as he said “she bullies me continually (that’s not true, – well not all the time!)”
Danny Furey, an amazing gentleman whose friendliness is evident to all who meet him; an outstanding sportsman and a legend in disability sport whose contribution to Dundee, Scotland and Great Britain is significant. It hasn’t stopped there, of course, his impact is reaching across the world to Uganda and elsewhere. Richard Brickley told me this little snippet, which sums up uncle Danny so well (for he is my uncle!) “Danny will also be remembered as one of the first high performance Para athletes to compete in very fetching coloured tights. Now everybody does. A real trailblazer in so many ways.”
Thank you, Danny, for taking the time to let Domaine du Sourire and our readers have a little window into your life and to be inspired by you.
Domaine du Sourire is an accessible holiday complex owned by Jackie and Terry Grant. Their dream that people with disabilities can have a memorable holiday led them to Domaine du Sourire an inclusive place to cater for guests of all abilities. Jackie and Terry always enjoyed their many holidays across the world and they wanted to have a place that would give guests everything they felt a self-catering holiday complex should have.
“We have 4 gites, a heated swimming pool with a ramp for wheelchair access, games room, soft play room and sensory room. Our sensory garden is being given a makeover this year,” Jackie told me.
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written by Amanda Mair