THREE years ago, Harry O’Hanlon was diagnosed with autism. But that was never going to hold him back when he wanted to raise money for three charities close to the heart of him and his family.
The six-year-old from Kinsale is currently nearing the end of a month-long marathon charity cycle fund-raiser.
Harry is undertaking a 3km cycle every day for 33 days for three causes — Shine, Sonas and the Rainbow Club — accompanied by his dad Ricky and others.
He began his ironman-style endurance challenge on July 7 and should finish it 100km later this Saturday, August 8.
“To help repay Harry’s gratitude to Shine, Sonas and the Rainbow Club, Harry is looking to raise some much-needed funds for these very worthy causes,” says dad Ricky.
“We are massively indebted to them all for the fantastic work they have done with Harry and continue to so for so many children.”
The neighbours at Ringcurran Rise gave Team Harry a mighty hero’s send-off when he started out on his quest.
“The local kids and the kids from Shine, Sonas and the Rainbow Club came out in droves to cheer him on,” says Ricky.
“We are so lucky to have incredible neighbours and the amount of support that Harry is getting is very touching.
“We cannot thank people enough across Carrigaline, Kinsale and Crosshaven for their kindness, generosity and support.”
Harry has spread the love far and wide.
“In the beginning, we knew we’d touch our inner circle,” says Ricky. “But we have touched towns across the county and beyond. It is a lovely story and central to the story is a six- year-old boy.”
Mum Martina and sister Chloe,aged four, are part of the team and part of the story.
“Chloe is very enthusiastic,” says Ricky. “Starting out; there is always the question, who goes in front and who doesn’t!”
Other heroes have been eager to get on board.
“When Harry cycled from our old estate in Castleheights, Kilmoney Road to Sonas on Church Road, Carrigaline, on day five, he got a lovely surprise when Damien turned up in the garda car to provide a police escort for Harry,” says Ricky.
En route to Dock Beach, Harry got another lovely surprise when he met David and the team at the fire station, who showed him and the kids accompanying him around the fire station.
“Harry was in his element when he got to wear the fireman’s hat, turn on the siren, and have a go at spraying the water hose!” laughs Ricky.
Many of Harry’s own heroes are eager to join him on his journey.
“When Harry finished his July provision, he cycled to Carrigaline to Crosshaven walkway, beginning at Kidzone, which he adores,” says Ricky.
“His July provision tutor, Helen, accompanied him.
“At the finish line, Harry’s best friend Bodhi, was there to meet them.”
The two children are besties.
“Bodhi and Harry have been on the same journey together since day one,” says Ricky.
“They both went to Shine and Sonas and have been classmates all the way.
“In a pre-Covid world, they were inseparable along with pal Charlie.”
Harry and his classmates have thrived in the supportive environments of Shine, Sonas and the Rainbow Club.
“At three years and six months, Harry had no words,” recalls Ricky.
“We cannot thank the Shine Centre for Autism in Carragline enough for helping our son communicate through the use of PECS (Picture Exchange Communication).
“Harry had the concept but no words. Early intervention made a lot of difference to Harry. He thrived with the support structures in place.”
Ricky and Martina, knowing Harry’s needs, wanted to ensure that their son got the best chance of reaching his full potential in the best positive way.
“We are so lucky that everything fell into place,” says Ricky.
“With fund-raising at a stand-still due to Covid-19, we wanted to give something back to Shine, Sonas and the Rainbow Club and help raise awareness.”
Harry is game-ball to show his appreciation.
“Shine, Sonas, and the Rainbow Club have made a huge contribution to Harry’s life,” adds Ricky.
Harry, who graduated from Sonas in August, and is starting school next term in Scoil Naomh Eltin, took up cycling with his dad during lockdown.
“Covid-19 provided the perfect platform for us to get out cycling,” says Ricky.
“The roads were empty and I could take Harry out for spins.”
He was a busy boy.
“He had zoom calls during his July provision keeping track of his goals set out at the start of the year,” says Ricky.
“He still had language therapy and occupational therapy sessions.”
But father and son found the time and the motivation to get on their bikes.
“Santa brought Harry a ‘proper’ bike last Christmas,” says Ricky.
“It is always by his side.”
Harry was ready for the road.
“He’s a tall boy and he was off the stabilisers even though he was a bit cautious,” says Ricky.
“Harry is routine- driven so we made out our cycling schedules day-to-day. Visuals are key to children with autism. Harry needs to know the plan to curtail his anxiety. He finds it difficult to adapt to varying scenarios. We stick to the plan.”
It’s a good job dad is fit and able to stick to the plan!
“In my younger days and pre-Covid 19, I played a bit of rugby, GAA and tennis.”
He was good to go.
“Covid-19 gave us the platform to get out cycling. We committed to doing 3km every day, starting on July 7 for 33 days cycling different routes every day.”
It wasn’t always a walk in the park.
“You have to adapt to Harry’s form,” says Ricky.
“And we had to take the weather into account, judging it every day.
“We had to avoid sensory overload and Harry doesn’t like the rain on his face.
“Sometimes the traffic and the noise of the traffic was daunting for Harry and he was over-whelmed.”
But when the boy got into the groove he was up and away.
“Cycling really helped his co-ordination,” says Ricky.
A lot of Harry’s needs were addressed through cycling.
“He learned about hills and when to brake,” adds Ricky. “He held his nerve.
“Harry loved cycling to his favourite places, Charles Fort, the tennis club, the rugby club, to the local beaches and to his favourite restaurants.
“His club members and his sports’ coaches joined us on some of the routes. They are so excited for Harry and they are so proud of him.”
Team Harry enjoy cycling the scenic routes.
“Visiting Clonakilty is part of the schedule,” says Ricky.
“Clonakilty is an autism-friendly town which is very social and Harry loves the railway village there.”
Harry, helping his heroes, gets a hero’s welcome wherever he goes on the trek.
“The response from the community is sensational,” says Ricky.
Much-needed funds for Shine, Sonas and the Rainbow Club are increasing every day.
“In the second week of July, €16,000 had been raised,” says Ricky. “It’s way beyond our expectations. Hopefully we can hit the €20,000 mark soon and the target has been increased to €25,000.”
Ricky is a bit overwhelmed at the massive response the 33 day cycle challenge has garnered.
“We are a private family,” says Ricky.
Not anymore, now that Harry is a local celebrity!
“Not anymore!” agrees Ricky.
“The support and the response is very rewarding and we are very touched by the lovely messages we have received and continue to receive.
“It is great some good has come out of Covid-19.”
When Harry starts his new school in Kinsale, he will make new friends, and he’ll say goodbye to some old friends.
“He’ll be saying goodbye to Paddy the bus driver,” says Ricky.
But the pals will still be in touch.
“Paddy lives right across the road from Scoil Naomh Eltin,” says Ricky.
Harry’s grandad Kevin drives a bus too, doesn’t he?
“Grandad Kevin is a volunteer bus driver bringing children on outings. Both sets of grandparents live near us and are a big part of our lives; They are so proud of Harry.”
Every child needs a hero and every parent needs a hero.
“Who knew that a bicycle could do so much good?” says Ricky.
Who knew that a six year old child could do so much good?
Harry has come a long way and he has gone a long way to giving back to those who helped him along the way.
“When Harry was really small, seeing him grow and develop and overcome challenges was fantastic,” says Ricky.
“It was great to see his progress evolve.”
Harry is progressing in very way.
“He feels he’s 10 feet tall!”
HOW TO DONATE
See gofundme page: Help for Harry’s Heroes.
Rainbow Club Centre for Autism:http//www.rainbowclub.ie/
Shine Centre for Autism:https//shineireland.com/