They’ve competed at European and Olympic level but this victory with their kids was extra special because it will change lives.
Olympians Rob and Marian Heffernan and their eldest children, Cathal, 14, and Meghan, 16, completed the 'obstacle course from hell' as part of Ireland’s Fittest Family: Celebrity Special which aired on RTÉ television tonight to win €10,000 for an autism charity in Cork, giving it the best possible start to the New Year.
“It was just such a great feeling to scale the last wall with the kids and come out on top,” race-walking legend Rob said.
“To be honest, Marian and I felt the pressure. We felt we had more to lose. But to be honest, the kids are fitter than us now. But when you strip away all the fun and banter we had on the day of filming, the motivation for us was the money and the difference it will make to The Rainbow Club in Cork, the children with autism they work with, and their families."
“When I was a kid in school, there were kids with autism who probably weren’t diagnosed and people just didn’t know. Having kids ourselves now, and from my work in schools with the bank, I can see first-hand how extra resources can make a huge difference for people who learn in a different way. There was a serious amount of money to be won on this show so we went for it. We hope it makes a big difference in the lives of the children at the Rainbow Club, and their parents.”
Rob, his sprinter wife, Marian, and their children, Cathal, who plays for Cork City FC’s and Ireland under 15s, and Meghan, who plays for Cork City under 17s, were coached by Derval O’Rourke, and were up against three other celebrity family teams.
Big Brother winner and future Dancing with the Stars competitor Brian Dowling’s team included his husband Arthur Gourounlian, his sister Aoife and his cousin, Amanda.
RTÉ Sport broadcaster Jacqui Hurley’s team included her husband Shane, her cousin Eoin and his cousin David, and the team led by Fair City’s David O’Sullivan, included his sister, Aoife, and his two cousins, Dennis and Denise.
The families had to tackle cliffhanger walls, a gruelling swamp-trek through 100-metres of energy-sapping bog, balance beams, and the infamous eliminator, which includes a 360-metre sprint and jump into freezing cold ice baths, followed by a climb over a 12-foot wall, a pyramid climb and a cargo net crawl.
The Rainbow Club, founded in 2015 by Karen and Jon O'Mahony, whose sons, Sean and Stephen, have autism, to help and support children, teens, young adults and their families living with autism.
Initially, about 30 children attended. More than 400 now use its services, with a waiting list almost as long.