A tour de force for Down Syndrome

Groups of cyclists wearing colourful Lycra outfits, streamlined helmets, and pedalling away furiously on bikes that are obviously built for speed, have become a commonplace sight on our highways and byways.
A tour de force for Down Syndrome

Not being a cyclist myself, I’ve admired these dedicated souls locally, wondering just how on earth they managed the Healy Pass or the tortuous climb up to Barley Lake, to say nothing of the high-speed descents.

Meanwhile, a whole new dimension has been added to the sport by fund-raising for numerous charities.

The Tour de Munster is one such impressive undertaking.

This year’s event will see 120 amateur cyclists cycle over 600km around the six counties of Munster in aid of Down Syndrome Ireland (DSI).

Who are the cyclists, those hardy souls who battle their way through the counties of Munster? Everyone participating in the event not only has to undertake some intensive — and time-consuming — training, but they must also fundraise to cover their own costs.

Q&A Barry O’Donovan

Barry O’Donovan is a family man with three children who lives and farms near Drimoleague in west Cork.

His youngest son, two-and-a-half-year old Jack has Down Syndrome, and is the light of his family’s life.

And last year, Barry, a tenacious and determined man with no background as a cyclist, took up the challenge to support his young son.

When I talked to Barry, he was back on the tractor, despite having had his appendix removed only days before.

* Barry, what happened?

>> “It was about 4am and we were having a family day out when I had a stomach pain. I couldn’t eat anything, but I went home and got on with the milking anyway. Later on it got worse, and I went from South Doc to the Mercy in Cork.

They told me that my appendix were about to blow. I’m very thankful that didn’t happen, but at the same time, I’m pretty upset I can’t do the Tour. I had the surgery on Friday and they sent me home on Saturday. I was all set. Instead, Paul has asked me to drive the jeep and be the support for the cyclists.”

* I imagine by now you had all the training done?

>>“Oh yes, like everyone else, I’ve been training for 15 weeks, 12-hour stints. Before I got involved with the Tour de Munster, I’d done a one-day Seán Kelly race in Waterford with little or no training, and that nearly killed me, so I’d learned the hard way.”

* You’re a dairy farmer, you’ve trained to do your own AI work as well as freelancing for others and you are a father of three young children. How have you found the time?

>> “You just have to get on with it, get up at 5am, train in the cold, whatever it takes. From the time Jacksie was first diagnosed, I knew that I would do anything I could for him and to support DSI and Co-Action, who’ve been incredible to us.”

* It must have been very difficult when you first got the diagnosis.

>>“Jack was born on January 17 and he’d had his injections at nine weeks. But he had a bit of reaction, a temperature, and we felt a bit uneasy.

We were at the height of calving, and I was outside talking to the vet when my wife came into the yard and said she was worried, and she was going to take him to the doctors. The vet looked at me and said I’d better get a relief milker.

After that, we had all the tests but we knew something was very wrong.

When the diagnosis was confirmed, I couldn’t believe it. I was crying and asking, “Why me?” Why us?”

My eldest son doesn’t have much interest in farming, and I’d thought that it would be Jack who would carry on from me.”

* Do you remember what you did?

>> I got on the tractor, and went back re-seeding the 14 acres I’d been working on. One of my biggest worries was what would happen to Jack when we were no longer around.

It was a terrible time. Before I got the news, I’d arranged to buy a bull from a friend in Cavan, and I just went ahead and picked him up, just as we’d arranged.

But I couldn’t tell you one thing about that drive. I was on auto-pilot.

My friend knew right away that something was very wrong and when he finally got it out of me, I think he was even more upset than I was.”

* Did you know anyone with Down Syndrome before your own experience?

>>“I have a nephew who has DS, and that was different, because I knew him. But the truth is, you wouldn’t have found me within 10 feet of someone with Down syndrome before.

I don’t know why that was, afraid I’d say the wrong thing, or that I wouldn’t know how to talk to them, what to expect.

And that’s one of the most important things that we need to do through events like the Tour de Munster, break down those barriers.”

* How are things for the family today, Barry?

>>“Because of the fantastic support Jack has had from DSI and Co-Action, he’s doing well. His brother and sister are mad about him.

He’s a great little character, and we all love him so much. His latest trick is the phone, which he’s figured out how to unlock. Now he’s always trying to call people.

On Aug 15 he’ll be getting an iPad through DSI, with special apps that I know he’s going to love. It’s going to bring so much more into his life.

And that’s what we want for him.”



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Karen Walsh

Karen Walsh

Law of the Land

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