Diagnosed with spina bifida hydrocephalus shortly after birth,
wheelchair hurler Sarah, who plays for Connacht
The home town of Ireland’s first president, Douglas Hyde, is the base of a brave but softly-spoken and modest young woman whose sporting exploits have led her to rub shoulders with British royalty.
What’s more, Sarah Cregg (24), from Frenchpark, Co Roscommon, spent much of lockdown working at a Covid testing centre in Sligo.
Diagnosed with spina bifida hydrocephalus shortly after birth, wheelchair hurler Sarah, who plays for Connacht, was selected as one of six GAA ambassadors to meet Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during the couple’s trip to Ireland in 2018.
Sarah comes from Roscommon sporting royalty herself. Brothers Cathal and Finbar have both worn the primrose and blue jersey of the county’s senior Gaelic football team with distinction.
“Sport has always been a huge thing in our household. I have been going to my brothers’ games from a young age and have probably been at every competitive inter-county match they have played,” said Sarah.
“There have been challenges for me all my life, but I have been able to manage and overcome them in my own way. Partly by not viewing them as challenges. And if I was not able to deal with things I had my family to support me.”
However, it was only at the age of 15 that her love-affair with wheelchair hurling began.
“I hadn’t been involved in sport before that. My mother, Annette, heard about it and asked if I would like to get involved.
“I thought about it for a week or two, and said to myself ‘why not?’ So, I tried it out to see how it would go. I had not been aware of opportunities for me to participate before that.”
The increasingly popular sport operates with similar rules to hurling, but with six players and four substitutes. Played indoors, on a hard court, it is a ground-based game, with points scored only from the sideline. Matches are typically seven minutes a half, but the All-Ireland final, the culmination of a day-long competition involving all four provinces, runs for three nine-minute periods.
Outside an inter-provincial championship tournament, there is a year-round league.
In her nine-year wheelchair hurling career, Sarah has won two All-Stars and Camogie Player of the Year Awards.
And her achievements were recognised locally with a prestigious Roscommon Herald/SuperValu Sport Star of the Year Award.
I would say to anyone with a disability, if you see a sport you would like to play, go for it, don’t be afraid, follow your dream.
Because, if you remain in fear of it, you will never do it. Try it out. If it does not work, there is nothing lost. Take part in as many sports as you can. You cannot let disability stop you.
Having met the couple, Sarah watched the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s recent tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey with a keen eye.
“During our meeting, they came across as very genuinely interested and very easy to talk to. They asked about how I got involved and how we play wheelchair hurling.
“It was really good to meet them on the pitch at Croke Park with other young sports people with disabilities.”
A past-pupil of St Nathy’s College, Ballaghaderreen and Sligo IT, Sarah says whilst full-time education presented challenges, these prepared her for life.
“There have been challenges for me all my life, but I have been able to manage and overcome them in my own way.
“Partly by not viewing them as challenges. And if I was not able to deal with things I had my family (dad and mum PJ and Annette; brothers Darragh, Cathal and Finbar, and sister Niamh) to support me.”
A member of Western Gaels GAA Club, Sarah, who drives her own adapted car, says wheelchair hurling has proved an integral part of her social life.
Neighbouring County Mayo provides her side’s training bases at Barnacarroll, near Claremorris and Charlestown, and she travels all over Ireland to represent Connacht.
She is anxious to stress to those with a disability that sport is not closed to them.
“It is great to meet and to interact with people I would not otherwise have met. Wheelchair hurling has helped me build friendships. Socially, it has helped me a lot.
“I would say to anyone with a disability, if you see a sport you would like to play, go for it, don’t be afraid, follow your dream.
“Because, if you remain in fear of it, you will never do it. Try it out. If it does not work, there is nothing lost. Take part in as many sports as you can. You cannot let disability stop you.
“For me, it is great to play against other provinces and challenge myself. I get a real buzz out of it, especially when we win. But no-one likes losing.”