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Cork City Marathon/Raynauds & Scleroderma Assoc.

FRIDAY, MARCH 10, 2017

Éamonn Murphy

IF we don’t support our own then no one will.

That’s always been the northside way, on and off the playing fields.  Hurling, football, soccer, basketball and beyond sporting circles, northsiders are never afraid of a challenge.

The fundraiser launch at Na Piarsaigh Hurling & Football Club. Picture: Larry Cummins

Recent months have been busy up in Na Piarsaigh GAA club. Aside from the usual preseason work, under the guidance of Cork legend Tony O’Sullivan they have developed an indoor alley that will be the envy of every hurling stronghold on Leeside. The official opening of that facility will take place shortly and it won’t be long either before Na Piarsaigh teams are back in championship action. Yet the club are also counting down to the Cork City Marathon on the June Bank Holiday weekend.

Na Piarsaigh have rallied behind club talisman Gary Sheehan – one of their greatest ever footballers and a midfield powerhouse in the mid noughties when they could compete with the best – and his wife Karen in a fundraising drive for scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease which affects just 300 in Ireland.

Scleroderma develops from Raynaud’s, a more common yet painful condition which flares up in cold weather and generally affects people’s fingers.
Karen Sheehan was diagnosed with scleroderma three years ago, but, as Gary explains, their primary aim in the coming months is to raise awareness and money to help research the ailment, for which there is no known cure.
“My wife didn’t want to be the centre of any piece,” said Gary. “That’s why she didn’t want to be in photos or anything. Our aim is to raise awareness and funds to help research for the disease.
“It’s such a rare condition that they’re really lacking there.”
Piarsaighs’ PRO Paddy Bourke was on hand for the launch, and is a driving force behind the marathon plan with Gary, along with John O’Leary, Trevor and Kieran Coleman, William O’Connor and Mark O’Sullivan.  The club’s senior hurler Chris Joyce took time out ahead of the trip to Nowlan Park to lend his backing.
While the disease is rare there is a support network in Cork, as the presence of Irene O’Keeffe and Kate attested too.
“Today was my first time meeting Irene, even though we’d been on the phone and emailing.
“It was through an article in the Echo (in August 2016) that I found out more about scleroderma, and other people who were suffering from it, even though my wife was dignosed three years ago now.
“Na Piarsaigh are great for supporting worthy causes. There was huge backing for Jamie Wall a few years ago and we also ran in Cobh for Suicide Awareness.
“I moved to Carrigtwohill and had kids so obviously I was out of the club a bit, when my son Aaron came up playing last year, Paddy got me involved in the fundraising committee.
“There’s no better club to get behind their own.”
Dublin-based Dr Catherine Norton is a consultant neuropsychologist and highly motivated to spread the word on the disease and help suffers in any way she can. Dr Norton visited Na Piarsaigh last month.

“The big thing for me was the response from the players when we got Catherine Norton down,” explained Tipp native but now Piarsaighs stalwart Paddy Bourke.  “It showed the heart that is among the playing fraternity in our club. You wouldn’t get them down for a training session! But they’ve been fantastic.”
“I couldn’t get over it,” said Gary. “I broke down inside at that meeting because every part of the club came out, lads I trained minor, the camogie, junior, senior, everyone.
“As a player you’re caught up in your own thing, that’s normal, but it was unreal. My own friends have been incredible too.
“There are about 50 of my old friends all behind it. Everyone got straight back onto me when I sent out the text.  We might not see each other from one end of the year to the other because we’re leaving all over the county and we’ve families, but it was overwhelming.
“We’d a few 40ths over the last few weeks and everyone just wanted to know how they could help.  Now when I said ‘marathon’ they all said ‘you must be joking!’ It’s the relay though, so anyone can manage that.”
While the motivation behind it is a serious one, Bourke makes the point the fundraising initiative will be hugely enjoyable too for all the club members. The hope is that over 300 will run in relay teams, and already Gary has been contacted by a number of those who were already running the full marathon who have decided to take sponsorship cards the Raynaud’s and Scleroderma Association.
“It’s great that the marathon has been switched to the Sunday, because with the Bank Holiday the next day, people can enjoy it,” said Paddy Bourke. “Coming back here to the club afterwards is going to be special.
“Those type of days mean a lot to everyone so it’ll be fantastic for the club and the cause. It also brings a connection to the club, all the committees, the young and the older members. That’s vital for every club.”
Which isn’t to trivialise the condition.
It might be rare but it has a devastating impact on the lives of sufferers.  Very little is known about scleroderma, which is believed to be stress related though possibly linked into the genes.  More cases are being diagnosed annually, with the World Health Organisation taking on increasing interest.
Kate Arnott-Flynn, with razor-sharp self-deprecating wit, summed up how it has affected her.
“It came in like the March wind and I ended up like marble. The body produces too much collagen. It can affect your organs but for some it’s just the tissue.
“Everything hardens. My arms were like two sticks. I ended up shuffling, my husband had to do everything for me.
“To even come downstairs in the morning, have a shower, it would take two and a half hours. It was horrific. For me chemotherapy got me going again. It’s a horrible disease because it affects everyone differently.”

For Gary, Dr Catherine Norton’s zeal has inspired them all.
“Catherine is a powerful person. She is so passionate you get an extra drive yourself. She’s printed t-shirts and sponsorship cards for everyone taking part.”
World Schleroderma Day is being hosted with the backing of The Commons Inn on June 29, in Cork for the first time.
On March 25 in Na Piarsaigh, the club are hosting all those who will take to the roads of Cork for the marathon.
Even though she was absent for this photoshoot, Karen Sheehan has an army supporting her.
“With Karen she has arthritis, fibrosis of the lungs, scleroderma and Addison’s disease, which the Down footballer Marty Clarke retired from recently,” revealed Gary. “It’s tough, there’s no doubt about that, but I know Karen and she doesn’t want to make it all about her.  She doesn’t want everyone worrying about her.”
Her humility is a touch of class, but with her husband, Na Piarsaigh club, and the wider community behind her, she’s on the right track.