Last Sunday, at 34 years old and with only 5% vision, Co Cork woman Sinéad Kane became the first visually impaired woman to run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.
You would be forgiven for thinking that, as Ireland’s first legally blind solicitor and in the fourth year of her PhD research, Sinéad took on and completed the mammoth challenge with an unwavering attitude of sparkling optimism.
She didn’t. She just got back up more times than she fell, and not only out on the road but in life too.
“The road to greatness is lonely and the road in 2016 has been very lonely,” said Sinéad.
“I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to achieve this goal and I’ve encountered a lot of rejection and even though there’s all this overwhelming support now, people, say on raining days when I had to go out running, weren’t there and didn’t feel that loneliness that I felt.
“They didn’t feel the rejection I felt when another sponsor, who had said they were going to sponsor me, let me down.
“Anyone can say ‘I want to inspire people’, but it’s actually going out and doing the task and the action and so I hope I don’t have to tell people ‘I want to inspire you’, I hope that they’ll look at the challenge that I’ve done and feel inspired by it whether you have a disability or don’t have a disability.
“And I don’t think you have to do seven marathons in seven days to be successful. All you have to do is set your own personal goals and I think what differentiates me from other people is that I’m willing to make sacrifices.
All through her life, she encountered challenges, from people and structures within society, because of disability. It was overcoming these experience that prepared her for the gruelling task of running seven marathons in a week, with swollen feet and on four hours’ sleep.
“I think my preparation has been my life experience and all the setbacks I’ve gone through, the bullying that I’ve gone through in my younger years, my disability,” said Sinéad.
“What differentiates me is how quickly you bounce back to the setback.”
Sinéad, whose PhD focuses on bullying, described her own experiences of discrimination.
“When I was in primary school I was very badly bullied, it was a lot of physical bullying,” she said. “Because I can only see maybe three feet in front of me, they’d put my schoolbag maybe five feet in front of me and I wouldn’t be able to see it was there, or they’d tell me they’d hid it or they’d hide books on me.
“In secondary school, it was very much isolation and seeing me an awkward, different student.”
Her seven-day challenge took her from Antarctica on January 23, to Chile on January 24, Miami on January 25, Madrid on January 26, Marrakech on January 27, Dubai on January 28, and Sydney on January 29. And while it was all about running, the greater metaphor for the visually-impaired athlete was vision.
“It represented, to me, having endless vision and constantly putting myself outside my comfort zone and being uncomfortable with being comfortable,” she said.
A mayoral reception for Sinéad by county mayor Seamus McGrath takes place at Youghal’s Mall House at 4pm today.
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