EARLE, an 80lb yellow Labrador, who is a service dog, is a perfect match for his mistress, the Paralympic athlete, Chris Slavin.
Showing great ingenuity, Earle even introduced Chris to fellow-athlete, nine-year-old Molly Marshall, who is in training for her second Moby Dick Triathlon, in Youghal, this September.
“It was an arranged marriage between Earle and me!” says Chris, from Boston, USA.
A wheelchair user for 12 years, since she suffered a spinal cord injury while snowboarding, she is planning to undertake a hand-cycle trek around Ireland in September for two charities.
“Earle introduced me to Molly and the rest is history,” says Chris. “Molly says that I am her hero, but really; she is my hero!”
The two have a lot in common.
“We are both sports mad and we never give up,” says Chris.
“Molly and I both attended the Cork Sports Partnership SportsAbility event at the Mardyke in Cork on April 6. Earle was there too, enjoying a few belly rubs!
“It is great to see the increase of sport and physical activity opportunities in Cork city and county for people with disability.
“I was amazed to realise how sporty Ireland really is with so many outdoor events in small communities offering sports’ opportunities for everyone,” says Chris, a former ski-racer and adaptive snowboarder.
“And Molly is a great role model; she can be my role model. That’s for sure!”
Molly, nine, from Passage, born at 28 weeks, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at two years old. She is a member of the Cork Rebel Wheelers, where her mum, Márie, and dad, Cornelius, are trainers.
She was nominated at the Outsider Youth Awards in January, honouring the most amazing boys and girls from the outdoor adventure scene.
Chris recalls when she met her hero for the first time.
“Last October, Molly was cheering on her dad, Cornelius, who was taking part in the Cobh to Cork 15 mile road race,” says Chris.
“Earle always notices other ‘wheelies’ and he nosed over to Molly. Those of us who use wheelchairs, we are all like a little club.
“I got talking to Molly, who told me that she had completed her first triathlon in Youghal in September and we started chatting, swapping notes with each other.
“Earle shook her hand! Molly, and I are firm friends ever since,” says Chris.
“We enjoy hanging out together and I’ve had some fun sleepovers at Molly’s house when I’m in Cork.”
Chris let her good friend into a secret.
“Molly was the first person I told about my hand-cycle around Ireland for my two chosen charities,” she says.
“Molly is going to accompany me on part of the Cork route, which is fantastic.
“We are good buddies. 2,000 miles can’t even separate us.”
It is easy to see why the two are besties. They remind each other of the magic that can happen when you follow your dreams and believe in yourself.
Molly, still full of beans after her second race, the Duathlon, accompanied by her sister, Nell, aged seven, organised by the South Coast Club, Youghal, is eager to tell me about completing her very first triathlon. The plucky youngster is aiming to repeat the feat again this summer.
“‘Here comes Molly Marshall!’ people were calling out from the sidelines” says Molly, her big blue eyes shining as she recalls crossing the finishing line of her first triathlon in Youghal last September, completing a 100 metre swim, a 2.5km cycle, and a 800m run.
“My picture was taken and I was interviewed as well!”
Her fan club were close by.
“Granny and grandad thought the day was very bad for the triathlon,” says Molly.
“But then, they were so delighted when I crossed the finish line. It felt like winning the Olympics! It was raining, and it was cold, but it didn’t matter to me. It was only 8 degrees.”
Was the water cold?
“The water was quite warm,” says Molly. “I didn’t want to come out!”
“Molly needed assistance going up steps,” explains Cornelius. “But not much else! Her grandad helped her onto her trike for the cycle.”
Then she was good to go, with the wind in her hair, a big smile on her face, having the time of her life, the determined little girl saw her goal in sight. And she claimed the prize.
“I was delighted with my medal. If I can see it; then I can do it,” says Molly, who is an ideal role model as an ambassador for 20 x 20, creating a shift in our perception of girls and women in sport, by increasing visibility of women’s sport.
“And if you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” says Molly, who with her own sports participation is highlighting the visible role of girls and women in sport.
“If we all play, we all win. And if others see me do triathlon, another five take on the sport, making it grow.”
Cornelius knows his daughters are both winners. Nell is following in her older sister’s footsteps, high on the sheer delight of participating in her first event, the Duathlon, cheered on by Chris Slavin.
“I was number 4 and Molly was number 5,” says Nell, pointing to her running singlet. The duo ran 300 metres, cycled 2.5km and then ran another 800 metres.
Márie and Cornelius are justifiably proud of their two girls making huge strides in their favourite events.
“When Molly completed the triathlon she got the loudest cheer and she had the coldest feet!” says Cornelius.
“She is a great swimmer.”
The little trouper, a great competitor, who never gives up, was jubilant crossing the finish line.
“At Shanbally National School, my picture and my story is up on the wall inside the front door,” says Molly proudly.
She is a great spokesperson for women’s and girls’ sport.
“If she can see it; then she can do it,” says Molly citing a motivational mantra pushing open the gates for more young women in sport.
“When I was small, I had to use a walking frame. But that soon went!”
Molly needs assistance over long distances and climbing stairs, using her wheelchair at times.
“My dad has a disability too,” she declares.
“He is doing the Ironman — we can train together.”
Cornelius has to come clean.
“I have two dodgy discs in my back,” he says. “As a youngster, I used to trip over all the time. My mother swapped my shoes, left to right. Wearing the odd shoes for a while stopped me tripping up!”
Molly’s sports prowess is in her DNA. Both her mother Máire, who hails from Co. Mayo, and Cornelius, from Tipperary, enjoy taking part in triathlons around the country.
“Work brought me to Cork,” says Cornelius, currently in training for the Ironman triathlon in June.
What brought Márie to Cork?
“Love!” says Cornelius laughing.
The close-knit family enjoy the great outdoors together.
“It is in our blood,” says Cornelius. “I am running since I was a young boy. I don’t ever remember not running. My dad, Tom, used to bring us to all the road races where we watched him take part.”
Márie, enjoying the health kick and the sociability, was soon bitten by the bug and she too became an enthusiastic participant in triathlons.
“It becomes your lifestyle,” says Márie.
“Cornelius was into running; I was into swimming. We are doing triathlons for at least 10 years now. The important thing is that we all enjoy it.”
Molly was eager to get involved.
“When Molly heard about us taking part in the Moby Dick triathlon she declared she wanted to take part in the children’s event.” says Márie.
“She is very sporty, enjoying all the activities at Rebel Wheelers Club. The kids have fun, finding a sport they enjoy. The Wheelers provide a great support for parents too, showing them what a positive path is. We’ve made great friends from all backgrounds.”
Molly is an all rounder.
“She is a member of Shamrock ladies football with her sister and she swims at Brookfield gym twice a week — and she does gymnastics in Carrigaline as well.
“And she takes part in the weekly Junior 2km Cobh Parkrun for four to 14-year-olds.”
“She is sports-mad all right,” says Cornelius.
“Molly also watches rugby on the television.”
Like a true sportswoman, she is disciplined and she knows what she has to do to be the great athlete she’s shaping up to become.
“When Molly was diagnosed with CP, Enable Ireland provided great support, offering us tips and advice,” says Máire.
“At first, it was a roller coaster. Molly underwent physiotherapy and occupational therapy at Enable Ireland.
“She is a great girl to do her exercises at home regularly. Molly understands and she is motivated. She does the strength and tone classes at the Wheelers Club on Wednesdays.”
She’s a great girl to support Enable Ireland.
“Molly has taken part in numerous fundraisers for Enable Ireland’s new centre at Curraheen,” says Máire.
“She is a real little poser and she enjoys doing photo shoots.”
Molly has her sights set on the future. She wants to be a teacher. What subjects does she like best at school? “I’m good at maths and I’m a Gaelgór. My best friend at school is Leixi. I like her.”
“I like the yard best at school!” she says. “I want to be an artist.”
No doubt I’ll be talking to these two ambitious ladies in the future.
“It’s funny talking to two Chris’s!” says Molly, addressing myself and Chris Slavin as she sips her apple juice.
The two Chris’s head away with sage advice from nine year old Molly. “If you think you can’t. You can’t. If you think you can; there is a better chance, a huge chance, that you will do it.”
Earle wags his tail, totally in agreement.
Rebel Wheelers, based in Togher, was established in 2008 to facilitate children who were eager to participate in all types of physical activities with an emphasis on sports. Email email@example.com Mobile: Teresa Dineen 086-7378907.
Cork Sports Partnership SportsAbility Day is an annual event held at the Mardyke Arena UCC, this year sponsored by Blackwater Motors. The aim of SportsAbility Day is to increase awareness of sport and the physical activity opportunities available in Cork city and county for people with disabilities.
Chris Slavin is undertaking a nationwide hand-cycle in September for the Ian O’Connell Trust, and Project Possible.
Ian, from Killarney, suffered a C3 spinal cord injury as a result of a motorbike accident in August, 2007. Project Possible aims to increase awareness about spinal injuries.