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Running helped me get through the darker days

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Sinéad Tighe at a women’s Meet and Train cross-country in Firhouse

Sinéad Tighe at a women’s Meet and Train cross-country in Firhouse

Sinéad Tighe at a women’s Meet and Train cross-country in Firhouse

Sinéad Tighe took up running in her thirties and is captain of the Brothers Pearse women's team in Firhouse. She talks about what her running means to her and why she took it up.

"When you have a severely handicapped child people don't really understand and you can become very isolated. But the people in running did understand. Running gave me my life back and helped me through the darker days - and through Covid-19."

When did you start running?

"Our son Daniel was born with a severe form of Sotos Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, when I was 33. We already had a daughter Shauna, who's now 16 - she's brilliant with her brother and won a Young Carer of the Year award a few years ago. Daniel is severely intellectually disabled, epileptic, incontinent and has poor sight. He's prone to very challenging behaviour. Overgrowth from a young age is a part of Sotos Syndrome and he's already 5'5' at the age of 13.

"When you give birth to a disabled child, you become a different person. The first few months are very hard - you hope they've got it wrong and then you've got to adjust. I felt that my own identity was gone, that I was no longer Sinéad.

"I had to give up work, which I loved - I had worked for Roches Stores and later Dunnes Stores as an administrator and even working part-time didn't work out. There were many dark days. I went to a new doctor, and he realised immediately that I needed a focus, since tablets weren't going to work. 'You're going to have to manage this life - have you ever tried running?' he asked me. That's when it started."

Do you remember your first run?

"Dodder Valley Park is just beside us so I went out hoping no one would see me. I walked and I jogged - it was hard. I then worked out a 5km loop around the Shamrock Rovers ground and started running that regularly.

"Because of Dan, I had lost friends - not everyone can understand what it's like to have a severely disabled child and you can become very isolated.

"I had joined a fitness group really to be with people. They suggested going to the Marlay Parkrun.

"I finished in 25 minutes, not having a clue, and my friends told me that was very good. I was then getting under 22 minutes regularly.

"Running gave me my life back and helped me through the darker days.

"In 2014, Tymon Parkrun started up and I started going there. By then I was searching for a bigger buggy for Dan so I could walk or jog with him and get him out and about.

"When it came, we went out for a run and you should have seen the smile on his face! I started to bring Daniel to the Parkrun. Keith, my husband, (who is a well-known GAA referee) also started running with him and Shauna runs a bit as well. It has brought the family together."

Had you any background in sport?

"I was always a busy little person when I was a child. When I was nine, my mam was looking around for something I could do.

"She suggested the Tallaght Youth Band where I could play an instrument. 'No way am I playing an instrument,' I said so I joined the majorettes that marched with the band.

"When I was about 11, we started competing in baton twirling competitions as the Tallaght Twirlers. I kept it up until I was about 18 or 19. Our coach Bernadette Doyne was training us to qualify for the World Championships and we lost out to the Naas Twirlers by only two points. That was heartbreaking.

"After that and a few years not doing much, I started aerobics and also did a lot of walking to keep fit."

When did you start racing?

"In late 2016, Peter Vincent from the Brothers Pearse Athletics Club approached me at a Parkrun and invited me to join the club.

"My first race was a Meet and Train two-mile cross-country in Dunboyne - it was a little road trip for us. It was tough but I loved it.

"After that, I started running more races and in 2017 pushed Dan in the buggy at the Dublin Marathon. A year later, Keith and Dan ran the marathon. We were raising funds so we could adapt our house for Dan. I'm now the women's captain at Brothers Pearse and our coach Eamonn Tierney thinks I could be a 'speedy' runner. We'll see. I've already signed on for the Tallaght 5km, due to take place on August 2 - our first race in months. It will be like starting again. And then we'll have cross-country which I am hoping will go ahead as normal."

Did you find it difficult to keep up your training?

"Some days I could run only 3km, others I'd go on and run 10km. Even on mornings when I didn't feel like it, I'd start off, trudging along for the first two kilometres.  

"By the time I got to five kilometres I'd remember how much I love this. I'd solve all my problems in my head and feel energised by the time I get back home.

"During the month of June, Keith and I ran 12 kilometres each day for a week - a 24/7 challenge - for Family Carers Ireland because carers are on call 24/7. It became a great competition between me and Keith because he's getting faster!

How have you survived the COVID crisis so far?

"After Dan's school in Drumcondra shut down in mid-March, it was absolutely terrible for the first week, like it is whenever there's a school holiday. But then we established a routine with the help of his teachers and therapists, who were absolutely brilliant. There is a music therapy app of 12 songs that he plays the tambourine along to - he absolutely loves that.

"So I'd put put that on for him in the morning and then we'd go for a run. We found two safe routes and both me and Keith would take him out once a day. Later on, we could drop down to his nanna's - there's a big garden there so he loves that.

"Then there was 'July provision' when for two weeks Dan went back to school from 9.20am to 2pm. I was over the moon with that, even though I had to drive him there and back. Please God he'll be back in school in September, although they'll have to sort out the transport. 

What about the future?

"We have to take each day as it comes. We try to give Dan his own life as best we can.

"Although it looks like we'll have no Parkruns for a while, Dan is well known at the Tymon Parkrun and he has his own bar code. Loads of people run with him, so we've built up a social community with him. Dan has brought the most beautiful people into my life."