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‘A lady took over, pushing as if dogs were nipping at her heels'

At the back of the Flora Women's Mini Marathon each year, you'll see a substantial number of wheelchair users joining in the fun. Some can push themselves, while others need the help of friends to cover the 10k distance.

Into the latter category falls 73-year-old Joan Bradley, who will take part in the Flora Women's Mini Marathon this year for the tenth time.

For years, Joan, a founder of the Post Polio Support Group, had watched the mini marathon from the sidelines.

"I knew it would be a great way of raising funds, but with my polio symptoms getting worse, I needed people to push me," she says.

Fate then took a hand. "A group of drama students got in touch with us looking for callipers to use as a prop in a play," she says. "I asked the girl to come around and see if my spare pair fitted. They did. A year later, I asked the students if they would push me in the mini marathon as a return favour.

"Since then, I've had neighbours and friends pushing me. One friend, Bertilla Reynolds, helps every year."

There have been funny incidents. "One year, a lady suddenly took over pushing my chair," she says. "'I've milked cows all my life, so this is no bother,' she said, pushing as if dogs were nipping at her heels."

Although Joan uses an electric chair to get about, for the mini marathon she dusts off the manual wheelchair she keeps under the bed.

Her efforts help raise much-needed funds for the Post Polio Support Group.

"About 4,000 in Ireland suffer from post-polio syndrome," she says. "It's an overuse syndrome -- you start losing your balance and falling. You don't know what muscle has gone, but you know something has gone."

Like many others, Joan moved from a walking stick, to callipers and then to various wheelchairs. "The money we raised last year bought three electric wheelchairs," she says.

"That means transforming the lives of three of our members."

For wheelchair-users planning to take part in the Flora Women's Mini Marathon, Joan has some practical advice: "Stay at the back, so you won't be under pressure, and keep your hands on the wheels at all times early on. I find I have to be careful not to hit the legs of the women walking in front of me.

"Above all, take the time to enjoy a marvellous day."

To sponsor Joan or to raise funds for the Post Polio Support Group, contact Anne Burns at 01 453 4150 or 01 889 8920, or visit the website www.ppsg.ie