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Phil and Nate Keohane.
Phil and Nate Keohane.
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Wheels are in motion to raise another €250,000

WE all enjoy our hobbies — the little things that get us through the week. How many of us, though, turn our hobbies into charity events that rake in thousands of euro every year?

John Fitzpatrick and Phil Keohane are two enthusiastic cyclists who are doing just that. The men are taking part in the 600km Tour de Munster, aiming to help raise a further €250,000 for Down Syndrome Ireland (DSI).

“When my son, Nate, who has Down Syndrome, was just out of hospital at nine weeks in 2012, he had been very ill. I saw the wonderful spectacle of the cyclists arriving back from the last leg of the Tour de Munster on the Sunday, sprinting up St Patrick’s Hill,” says Phil, who lives in Carrigaline.

“There were other dads, mothers and aunts taking part. I decided then that as a parent with a son with Down Syndrome I would definitely take part in the tour the following year. It is great to see where the money goes,” says Phil.

“I was motivated even more. The money goes to the grass-roots. The Munster branches of DSI benefit greatly from the Tour de Munster, enabling more essential therapies like speech and language development and physiotherapy treatment for people with Down Syndrome.

“Any surplus funds go to valuable projects like the Field of Dreams where people can learn skills to become more independent and gain a sense of self-worth and achievement. People with DS just want what every person wants.”

Phil didn’t always want to take part in a long distance cycle. Clocking up 100 miles seemed a distant dream. Four days on the open road could seem like a mighty leap of faith for any amateur cyclist, but Phil has completed the 600km route four times.

“I wasn’t a cyclist,” admits Phil. “But when I saw the finish of the Tour de Munster for myself, I realised the importance of it. The impact is massive. I got myself a bike and I joined all the other cyclists who were training with Paul for the next tour. Any cyclist can take on the challenge and do the tour. The support and the camaraderie is fantastic. There is no other event like it in any other province,” says Phil.

“The Tour de Munster covers all the counties in Munster.”

Phil has an enthusiastic supporter in his corner.

“My daughter, Amelia, who is three, has her own little bike. She is a speed demon!”

And Nate?

“He’s a bit of a ticket,” says Phil with a smile. He loves going to créche and his speech and language skills are coming on in leaps and bounds.”

Nate, now aged five, is a dinger at Lámb, a special type of sign language that is used by the Down Syndrome community.

“Yes,” says Phil. “He entertains us all by singing songs.”

Phil says you don’t have to have a bike with a high specification to make the leap from a sedentary lifestyle to the open road.

“It is not necessary,” he says. “You should be comfortable with your bike though. You have to like it. Get a good road bike and avail of the cycle to work cycle scheme. And make sure to get a helmet. Safety is paramount. ”

And you have to put in the mileage.

“Indeed you do,” says Phil. “I’d advise cyclists who’d like to sign up for the challenge and get serious, to join a cycling club and get involved in various cycling events. Get out on Saturdays and Sundays with a pal. Paul Sheridan’s training time-table is available to everyone. Harlequin hockey pitch is the venue. New people are always welcome. You meet the same people and you meet lots of new people too.

“The distance gradually builds up, 40 to 50km, and then the distance gains momentum; building up to 360km in one go. Paul puts in huge effort into the training. The cyclists bring the feelgood factor and the ‘do good’ factor back to the workplace and to their cycling clubs. It is great.”

John Fitzpatrick.
John Fitzpatrick.

Fellow cyclist, John Fitzpatrick, always had the ‘can do’ factor, despite being born with a ‘club arm’. Meeting the kids and parents benefiting from the Tour de Munster spurred him on even more.

“It brings it all back to you why you are taking part in the training and taking part in the tour,” says John.

The Tipperary native works for Apple in Cork.

“Colleagues at work first told me about the Tour de Munster,” says John. “When I read up on it, it appealed to me straight away. I got a feel for it and I started the training with Paul. I had an amazing first year taking part in the tour.”

The Tour de Munster proved a memorable experience for John.

“The camaraderie was great from the start,” he says.

“Everybody is made feel so welcome. On the tour, everybody starts and finishes together. It is what all the cyclists want.”

How did John build up his fitness levels to take part in the Tour de Munster?

“I started with little spins,” says John. “I wasn’t ever a serious cyclist. I got it into my head that I’d like to do more of it. The Tour de Munster is for such a good cause, close to everyone’s heart, it seemed the way to go.”

John had a winning combination of dedication and focus to get bike-ready for the Tour de Munster.

“Treat getting fit like the runners and walkers who do the couch to 5k works,” says John.

“You start building up muscles and lung power. Motivation kicks in when you cycle with a group. Getting out with a cycling group for small events builds your confidence and maintains consistency.”

John wasn’t sure he’d keep up the pace.

“In the beginning, I thought I’d never do more than one day, that I’d never keep up,” he recalls.

“But after two or three months, you get stronger and it is a great feeling. Everybody is in the same boat. That makes it easier.”

The massive support on the route makes it easier too.

“When you enter the towns along the route, you are greeted by families and parents with banners and well wishes,” says John.

The cyclists feel like the Pied Piper!

John laughs.

“It’s that kind of atmosphere,” he explains. “It has a festival feel to it. The kids cycle in the last couple of miles into the town with us.

“Volunteers are all along the route shaking their buckets for donations. Everybody comes out in force to get involved and they support us all the way.”

John felt included from the get-go.

“The joint effort is massive. You make wonderful friends,” he says.

“When I started the tour on the Thursday last year, I knew hardly anybody. At the end, I knew everybody.”

John can handle his bike like a pro.

“I never felt any different. Ever,” says John, referring to his ‘club arm’.

John was born with five fingers and a thumb. He underwent an operation when he was a baby to remove his thumb.

“There was no bone on my thumb,” he explains.

“So it was removed. I use my index finger as a thumb. It is just as effective for everything, including the brakes on the bike.

“If I had a cosmetic arm; I would lose out on the functioning ability. It has never hindered me.”

John was never hindered in his bid to get up the mighty incline of Patricks’ Hill in his bid to complete the Tour de Munster.

“The buzz on Patrick’s Hill is amazing,” he adds.

“You think you’ll never get up there. But you do.”

A rider climbs St Patrick's Hill, Cork  during The Tour de Munster four-day charity cycle event.Pic; Larry Cummins
A rider climbs St Patrick's Hill, Cork  during The Tour de Munster four-day charity cycle event.
Pic; Larry Cummins

ABOUT TOUR DE MUNSTER

The Tour de Munster is a four day charity cycle that takes place from Thursday, August 10 to Sunday,August 13.

Over the four days, more than 100 amateur cyclists will cycle over 600km around the six counties of Munster, raising funds for the Munster branches of Down Syndrome Ireland.

This is the eighth successive year that the national charity has been the beneficiary of the popular cycle.

A new aspect to this year’s tour is that individual cyclists can choose to raise money for a separate charity if they wish.

The 2016 cycle raised €285,655, resulting in more than €1.9 million raised for DSI alone.

Since its inception in 2001, Tour de Munster has raised more than €2.4 million for its beneficiaries. The aim this year is to raise a further €250,000 for DSI.

For more, see www.tourdemunster.com

CYCLE TO WORK SCHEME

The cycle to work scheme is for employers that can pay for bicycles and cycling equipment for their employees. The employee pays back through a salary sacrifice arrangement of up to 12 months. The employee is not liable for tax, PRSI, or the universal social scheme on their repayments.

See www. citizensinformation.ie for more information