UHW’s Miriam taking on Sahara challenge for Special Olympics

Sheila Heffernan reports

N16S1AddHeaderLogoOn April 7th, 1,100 athletes will begin a 250-kilomere run across the Sahara desert: the famous (and infamous) Marathon des Sables is the equivalent of running six marathons in the six days it generally takes entrants to complete.
And among the 25 Irish taking part is Miriam O’Connor, a Consultant Oncologist at University Hospital Waterford (UHW), who is raising money for Special Olympics Munster.
With temperatures reaching 40 to 50 degrees Celsius each day, competitors will need to carry all essentials, including food, clothes and a sleeping bag while they run.
This will be testing not only physical, but mental strength also. “Mental stamina probably constitutes at least five per cent of whether competitors complete the distance or not.
“Physical fitness is important but competitors shouldn’t underestimate the mental stress that they will need to endure” stated Aisling Murray of Runireland.com when speaking about the race.
“I wanted to fundraise for something with a sport slant, rather than something related to my work” revealed Dr O’Connor, an avid runner, when discussing why she decided to take part in the race.
She chose to donate to the Special Olympics because of the parallels the race itself had with the experience of the athletes.

Dr Miriam O’Connor, the Clare-born UHW Consultant Oncologist who is taking on the Marathon des Sables.

Dr Miriam O’Connor, the Clare-born UHW Consultant Oncologist who is taking on the Marathon des Sables.

“The Special Olympics fitted the bill because they take on challenges that are said to be undoable for people with disabilities, so I saw similarities” she explained. Living first in Clare and now in Waterford, giving to an organisation that would help all of Munster also appealed to Miriam.
With the race fast approaching, Miriam has cut back on her training to rest before this massive undertaking.
“With such a mammoth task, you have to break it down, how you train, your equipment and food. When you’re facing into the run, you focus on day one, day two and so on,” Miriam explained. One aspect which may make this undertaking easier is the presence of others undertaking it. “Most [of the Irish participants] have been in contact, as it’s such a small group” Miriam pointed out. “My brother is doing the run as well, and I know one other woman doing it”.
The funds raised by Miriam for the run will help the Munster Special Olympics to provide for coach training, the cost of travelling to sports events and equipment.
“Miriam is extraordinary, both in her method of fundraising and the amount. She has already raised €5,000 and she hopes to raise between €8,000 and €10,000” explained regional fundraising coordinator Lynda Foley.
“We weren’t expecting such a large revenue stream” she added. “This donation will help greatly in the important work the Special Olympics does.
“Special Olympics Munster is first and foremost a sports organisation for people with an intellectual disability, but it provides athletes with far more than the physical benefits of sport,” Lynda stated.
“It’s about fun, friendships and team spirit; it’s about a feeling of belonging, and ultimately improving quality of life” she added.
Their mission is to provide year-round sports training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
With over 2,200 athletes, throughout 63 clubs, supported by over 10,000 volunteers, Special Olympics is truly having a huge impact on local communities across the region.
Special Olympics changes lives in many different ways. “Through sport, athletes develop both physically and emotionally, they make new friends, realise their dreams, and know they can fit in” Lynda stated.
Miriam pictured in training!

Miriam pictured in training!

“Special Olympics enables them to achieve and win not only in sport but in life too” she added. Now commencing a new four year cycle, that will see athletes compete in Area Events in 2016, with the ambition of progressing to Regional Games in 2017 and on to the National Games in 2018. From these games, Team Ireland will be selected to compete at the World Summer Games in 2019.
Not dissimilar to Miriam undertaking her race, the athletes must take each section at a time before they can move to the next.
Along with Miriam’s fundraiser, the organisation will have its own its own Collection Day on Friday, April 22nd.
This day, which will need the support both of extra volunteers and donators, will raise even more money for the Special Olympics worthy cause.
“The money will go to training and the development of Munster Special Olympics over a four- year cycle” Lynda stated.
“Special Olympics changes lives,” stated Lynda.
“There’s no simpler way of stating the importance of the work the Special Olympics does. The effort the organisation puts into ensuring a high quality, competitive environment for its athletes is amazing. Miriam’s help will ensure, in part, that this will continue.”
If you wish to support Miriam in her undertaking, you will be able to donate and find out more on give.everydayhero.com/ie/marathon-des-sables-toughest-foot-race-on-earth.
To find out about making a direct donation or volunteering with the Munster Special Olympics, contact Lynda on: Tel: 021 4977192, Mobile: 085-8053242
or E-mail lynda.foley@specialolympics.ie.

For full story see The Munster Express newspaper or
subscribe to our Electronic edition.

Leave a Comment