Every August more than 600 kilometres are covered around the scenic and picturesque province of Munster for the annual Tour de Munster, charity cycle which is entering its thirteenth year. The increasingly popular four-day event, established by Paul Sheridan at the turn of the Millenium has selected Down syndrome Ireland (DSI) as the sole beneficiary for the past three years. And this year is no different, as organisers and participants hope to surpass the i1m mark fundraised for DSI, with all proceeds equally divided between the six DSI branches in Munster - one located in each of Tipperary, Waterford, Limerick, Cork, Kerry and Clare. The Tour de Munster (which takes place from August 8-11 inclusive, 2013) has raised i840,000 over the past three years for the six branches, an average of i47,000 per branch each year. This is a substantial amount of money for an organisation which has not received any Government funding since its establishment in 1971. It is estimated that there are approximately 7,000 people in Ireland with Down syndrome, which occurs when there is one extra copy of chromosome 21 in the body. One in every 546 babies in Ireland are born with Down syndrome.
Down syndrome Ireland (DSI) is an organisation for people with Down syndrome, and their parents, guardians and families. It has over 3,000 member families with 25 branches nationwide, and relies on voluntary contributions and events organised by its members for its survival. The Tour de Munster has been the lifeblood of the Munster branches for the past few years, enabling them to provide essential services to families that would otherwise be unavailable.
Last weekend a short introductory race to the Tour de Munster, called a prologue, took place. Starting in Clonmel, it saw 45 cyclists, local and from further afield, ride to Kilkenny on Saturday, and to the home of the great Sean Kelly, on Sunday. The idea was to raise awareness of the upcoming August event and remind potential participants how important this race is for DSI and that it is possible for anyone to get involved.
Originally from Callan, Co. Kilkenny but living in Cork, Conor Roche was involved in the organisation of last weekend’s prologue. This is Conor’s third year involved in the Tour de Munster, and like so many of the participants of the 640km tour, his reasons are personal. His beautiful daughter Emma was born with Down syndrome three-and-a-half years ago and this is Conor’s way of doing what he can to ensure that Emma, and all the other children with Down syndrome, receive the very best services they need.
“I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise,” said Conor.
“DSI is more than 40 years in existence and it gets nothing from the Government, it is totally reliant on fundraising, and is the first charity to be chosen consecutively by Paul Sheridan who organises the Tour de Munster,” he said.
“You need a support mechanism as a parent when you have a child with Down syndrome,” Conor said.
“DSI is a great centre of advice and support where parents can call straight away and they are helped to cope. DSI run lots of things to help children develop and it heightens the awareness among the public that children or poeple with Down syndrome are the same as everyone.” The services provided by DSI to people with Down syndrome, and their families, are immense and include: counselling; ensuring proper educational facilities; research into the causes of Down syndrome; liaising with the Department of Health and other relevant departments, and national organisations; the integration of people with Down syndrome into the community with full citizens’ rights, and to provide a forum for parents and guardians, where they can meet and exchange views and ideas.
Two services provided by DSI which Conor highlights, and which most people identify as being extremely important, are speech and language therapy and occupational therapy, which otherwise can be very difficult to access. But these services could not be provided without the constant support and fundraising efforts of volunteers like Conor and the Tour de Munster gang.
DSI helping Tipperary
Sandra Poyzer is the secretary of the Tipperary branch of DSI which has been in existence since 1973, and knows only too well how significant the Tour de Munster funding is for them. Run by a committee of volunteers, Tipperary DSI have been able to hire a senior speech and language therapist for two days each week - one day for north and south of the county.
This level of service would never be available normally, according to Sandra, yet it is one of the most important. The funding also covers fitness classes and music therapy in Ballycahill Hall in Thurles. And they are hoping to commence cookery classes soon also.
Tipperary DSI also fund the attendance of educational workshops for people with Down syndrome, and parents, and members of the branch are currently entering the second year of a two-year adult literacy programme run by Queensland University for adults with intellectual disabilities.
The Tour de Munster and the cyclists who give of their time so selflessly amaze Sandra.
“They are amazing, I would be in awe of them honestly, they are fantastic and do it all at their own expense,” she said. All participants of the Tour, pay for everything themselves - hotel accommodation, food, jerseys - ensuring that every cent raised in sponsorship by them, goes straight to DSI. Bucket collections also take place in towns and villages along the route and Sandra and volunteers from Tipperary will be out in force over the course of two days during this August’s Tour - Cahir, Tipperary Town and Nenagh on Thursday August 8 and Clonmel and Thurles on Friday August 9 (subject to permits). Organisers and volunteers are also hopeful that local businesses will get involved by sponsoring a jersey, or part of a jersey.
Sandra hopes that more people from Tipperary will particiapte in the upcoming Tour, because of what it allows them to do for families and children all around the county.
“To DSI it is absolutely so vital, to the extent that they would be up there with the saints for me, you couldn’t say enough about them,” she said.
Get on your bike
While 640km seems like a daunting challenge, with sufficient training from now until August, anyone can participate in the four-day Tour de Munster, according to Conor, who hadn’t been on a bike himself for years following a fall when younger.
“If you have a road bike and you want to raise money for DSI, then you can do this - you can,” said Conor.
“Even from a weight point of view, I was 16.5 stone when I started training in the February or March and by June or July, I was down to 14 stone,” he said.
“Fathers, mothers, brothers, nieces, nephews can all get involved and do something to help.”
Training normally starts in April, but there is no time like the present and Conor recommends starting off with two midweek cycles of 50km, working up to a 100km weekend ride. Cycling sportives, or leisure cycles, can be hugely beneficial and he recommends the Stephen Roche Tour de Cure which takes place on May 12 or the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle on July 6.
“Your body has to experience cycling 120km, 140km and 170km. There will be times when you will have lows and feel uncomfortable but you will cycle through it and it is worth it when you finish on St Patrick’s Hill,” said Conor.
Paddy O’Callaghan from Clogheen agrees that overcoming the St Patrick’s Hill obstacle gives cyclists an amazing feeling each year as they pedal towards the finish line - and would recommend anyone to experience that. This will be Paddy’s fourth year to do the Tour, with his girlfriend Maura Buckley, originally from Listowel. He, along with several members of the newly formed South Tipperary Cycling Club, participated in last weekend’s prologue and Paddy would advise anyone to get involved in this year’s Tour.
“Even from the point of view of fitness and friendship, but more importantly to be able to do something good for DSI and for families, people should absolutley take part,” he said.
Paddy’s aunt, who is 54 this year, has Down syndrome so he knows first hand the huge good that DSI does for families in Munster and all over Ireland. As well as his personal reasons, he and Maura also enjoy the event, the cycling, meeting new people each year and making new friends.
If you would like your business name to feature on one of the cyclists’ jerseys during this year’s Tour de Munster contact Sandra Poyzer, secretary of the Tipperary branch DSI for more information on 087 9821047.
Registrations are now being accepted for the Tour de Munster. If anyone is interested, please contact
Paul Sheridan directly on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 087 6474928.
For more information on the event and the route, please see www.tourdemunster.com or keep up to date on Facebook: www.facebook.com/tourdemunster