Oops, we did it again! We turned on that twitter machine and out pops loadsa guide runners for a visually impaired marathon runner.
With just 10 days to go to this year’s Dublin City Marathon, Tom Briggs from Derbyshire contacted Sarah in our office: his guide runner was injured, and he may not be able to do the magic marathon.
Sarah got on the blower while I tweeted for VSI. 50,000 tweets later Tom now has multiple offers. Thank you, everyone, especially our friends at Athletics Ireland and the Dublin Marathon.
One young lady who re-tweeted on Tom’s behalf was our own Sinead Kane. Sinead is a widely published freelance journalist who is visually impaired and relies totally on guide assistance. This will be Sinead’s first attempt at the classic distance.
Of course, this was not the first time Vision Sports Ireland switched on the twitter machine. Just two years ago our great track star Andy FitzGerald also lost his guide. Boom, tweet and dozens of calls later he had his guide team. RTE’s Nationwide picked up the story and the rest is on video.
Sinead and Tom are the latest in a long line of vision impaired people who have taken to Dublin’s famous marathon.
It was May 1981, the eve of the first-ever National Games for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Ireland, and the Irish media were just not interested.
Then, out of the blue, RTE star Mike Murphy requested to interview Ireland’s best known blind marathon runner, Jimmy Gallagher. “Delighted to”, said Jimmy “my guide runner and good friend Ski Mullen will join me for the interview”.
“We just want to interview you, Jimmy, not Ski,” RTE said.
“Forget it!” said Jimmy.
Now, there’s an excellent example of that unique bond which often builds between blind runner and guide. For the blind runner, it’s a matter of putting trust and faith in a guide who will say what’s coming up or down, what’s here, there and everywhere. To this day Jimmy credits Ski – a champion army boxer and fitness trainer – as his greatest sporting influence. From conversations with Ski 30 years ago I recall how much he loved training with Jimmy and how he himself was inspired. For the record, the normally uncompromising Jimmy was eventually dragged screaming to RTE for a solo interview with the very much humbled Mike Murphy, probably by the very persuasive Ski Mullen himself.
Jimmy is an enigma within organised sports for the visual impaired. He was the first blind runner here to run marathons – he competed in the first Dublin in 1980 – and has completed 34 marathons across the globe since. He is also very accomplished at many other sports including skiing, horse-riding, sailing, water-skiing and tandem cycling. Jim likes the gym too. Last May Jim became the first ever athlete to win the VSI Hall of Fame. The award was presented by our Chair Robert Dobbyn at MayFest 2014.
Back in the same year of 1981 I recall limping into work after my first Dublin Marathon (2.56.10). First on the phone was one John Newman, another legend of Irish visually impaired running.
John had spent the previous day listening to radio reports on the Dublin Marathon. He was awestruck and wouldn’t get off the phone until I told him of every inch of every mile on my marathon.
Six months later, at John’s insistence and my reluctance, I was John’s guide for a 10-mile road race in his adopted hometown of Dundalk. I am partially sighted and this was one of the scariest experiences I ever had but, we got home safely!
John, with his good friend – our good friend – coach, mentor and guide Tony Guest – recent recipient of the Paralympics Ireland Order award – went on to run several marathons including London. Sadly his life was cut short at the age of 38 by a heart attack in 1987. He is perpetually remembered with the John Newman trophy which is presented to the Vision Sports Ireland Sports Personality of the Year.
Ireland, and Vision Sports Ireland, have the distinction of hosting one of the few “Blind Marathons”. This happened on Saturday 12 September 1993 as part of our hosting the European Athletics Championships for the Blind at Belfield. 15 runners set out at 7 am to complete the Belfield to Bray area and back 26.2-mile journey. I ran some of it myself “to assist a few runners”.
The tiny marathon organising committee was led by those excellent officials Joe and Bernie Walsh of Swords, who did a fantastic job. I know they had nightmares beforehand, I’d say they had more afterwards!
Former Vision Sports Ireland Chairperson, Mick Clarke, won bronze for Ireland at that 1993 Marathon. Mick is one of those guys you just know has been running all his life. He has run many sub-three-hour marathons and it was great to see him finally pick up an international medal that day. To my best knowledge, he is the fastest marathoner of us all with a brilliant time of 2 hrs, 39 mins and 8 seconds. Exhausting!
The list of blind/vi marathoners goes on and on: how about the ultra runner and many times sub-three-hour man Noel McInerney? Or, then there’s our former Chairperson the international medals man Tony Ward. Tony, who now works with Fighting Blindness, has just completed the Paris-Nice cycle, so he has not prepared for this year’s Marathon.
Let’s not forget our girls too including Mary Fahy and Angela Allen.
Finally, a very insightful email came into us a few years back asking why we don’t pay more attention on this website to yesterday’s great blind and visually impaired athletes. Carol Carr, Bridie Lynch, Christine Walsh, John Kelly and even yours truly got an honourable mention. The emailer could easily have added many more.
There was a special mention too in the email for “Tommy the visually impaired man whose low self-esteem was palpable until he ran the marathon”.
Now there’s a guy I witnessed first hand. The Tommy referred to is one Tommy Caswell from Cork who ran his first marathon in Dublin in 1982 and went on to run in Manchester and many more. Tommy had a tougher childhood than most. When he found running, he found something, at last, which gave him belief. I haven’t seen Tommy for years but a mutual friend tells me he’s on top of the world right now.
“Perhaps you didn’t know these ordinary talented Irish people” the email concluded, “and if that’s the case I really don’t mean to be rude but I’m letting you know they contributed quietly and significantly to the visually impaired Irish, European, world and Olympic movements”.
We are delighted to report that this website devotes a special section to our distinguished past. See Glory Days. See http://www.visionsports.ie/News/GloryDays.aspx
Best wishes to Sinead and Tom as you both take on the ultimate athletics challenge. From someone who has been there take it that it’s not easy but you can do it.