CORK teacher Christine Smiddy is one of hundreds of people taking part in the Tour de Munster cycle event this year.
This will be the 13th successive year that Down Syndrome Cork has been the beneficiary of the popular cycle around the province, taking place from August 4-7.
Christine’s brother, Damien, who has down syndrome, is all excited that his big sister is taking part in the Tour de Munster.
“He was cheering the cyclists down Patrick’s Hill at the finish last year. There was a great atmosphere,” says Christine, from Ballycrenane Ballymacoda
She got her wheels a few months ago ready for the road.
“For the last few years, I have considered taking part in the Tour as I have seen first-hand how Damien and so many others have benefited from the ever-improving facilities and services available from DS Cork. I decided to take the step this year and bought my bike back in March.”
Christine was determined to get back on the saddle after a few minor hiccoughs.
“The training group have taken me under their wing since day one and have been the backbone in the transition from a nervous social cyclist to someone who is about to cycle over 600km across the six counties of Munster,” she says.
“From a fall in the early days to the odd flat tyre, they have supported me every step of the way. The buzz on Patrick’s Hill, which will be the last leg of the journey on August 7 will be electric and I am just so excited and privileged to be part of it.
“Damien is thrilled that I’m taking part this year in the cycle.
Christine is proud of her younger brother.
“He is the youngest and he’s spoilt rotten!” she laughs.
“Damien is 20 and currently in his 2nd year in Bonnington Training Centre,” says Christine.
“He attended mainstream primary school in Kilcredan, where he got on great and as a result knows everyone in the community, which is fantastic. He was treated like every other child in the school and this was credit to his principal, SNA and resource staff,” says Christine, who teaches in Pobalscoil na Tríonóide in Youghal.
Damien made great strides.
“In March, Down Syndrome Cork ran a pilot programme whereby young adults over the age of 18 were given the opportunity to work in the Down Syndrome charity shop in Merchants Quay Shopping Centre. Damien now travels independently to and from on the train or bus to Cork,” says Christine.
“This has been so beneficial in terms of building his confidence and dealing with the public. He previously worked in Garryvoe Hotel and knowing his friends from Kilcredan also working there made him adjust quicker and he really enjoyed it.”
Christine recognises the great work DS Cork do.
“Down Syndrome Cork was a great support from the beginning as the services were very poor when Damien was born, with no speech therapy available at the time.
“Therapies including physiotherapy and occupational therapy were then subsidised by Down Syndrome Cork, and it’s funding like this which is why fundraising events like the Tour De Munster are vital.
“In the near future, Damien will hopefully progress to the Field of Dreams in Curaheen, which is another amazing initiative by DS Cork.
The main focus is to prepare them and provide training for the working world. Damien got to know other children with Down Syndrome over the years and they are now all great friends into adulthood.
“The field of dreams is a training centre for young adults, which was built in 2017 to meet their on-going learning needs,” adds Christine.
The purpose of the three-acre horticultural site is to move young adults into a life of greater independence and potentially integrate them into the workplace. The facility has come on in leaps and bounds since its opening. The first Cork ‘sportives’ was one of the ‘SUDS’ events, which stands for saddle up for Down Syndrome. These ‘sportives’ across Munster enable each county to get involved with the Tour in the lead up to the main weekend, raise vital funds and act as a training opportunity for cyclists, so they’re a win all round
“Damien and I have an extremely special bond,” says Christine, who also has a sister, Elaine.
“Being six years older, I was always aware of him having special needs, but only became aware of Down Syndrome as I got older, I suppose. Our family was no different to anyone else and thankfully Damien had no health issues.
Christine got to know Damien’s friends. “As he grew up, I had the opportunity to meet siblings of other boys and girls with DS. Sibling workshops were held and friendships were formed,” she says.
“These bonds have lasted to this day and one girl I met along the way many years ago is also completing the tour, which is brilliant.”
Damien is an all rounder.
“He is a master at keeping his bedroom tidy so I rope him in to help with cleaning my house when I can!” says Christine.
“We’re very fortunate to live right beside the beach and he loves taking our dog for walks down there and over to Garryvoe. He also enjoys swimming and he has learnt many recipes in college so he gives cooking and baking a go now and again.”
Christine is heartened by the training group for the Tour de Munster.
“It’s heart-warming to see how motivated everyone is to raise funds for such a worthy charity,” she says.
“Teenagers have often called up with their parents before training sessions to show their appreciation and it brings back home what all the hard work is for.
“The Tour has successfully run an initiative over the last few years called ‘Adopt a Cyclist’, whereby families write letters to the cyclists and engage with them. It’s really exciting for the young people to possibly meet their partnered cyclists along the stops in the Tour where they show their heart-felt thanks.
“It acts as motivation for the cyclists and excites the young person to hear about their training and preparation for the event. It is lovely for people to watch out for someone on the Tour if they don’t know anybody taking part personally.”
Christine will have her own cheer-leader. “Damien is really looking forward to it and will be cheering me on along the route,” she says.
To aid fundraising, a coffee morning will be held this Sunday at Christine’s home in Ballymacoda from 10am to 2pm. Donations can also be made online at www.idonate.ie/ChristineSmiddy
Funds raised as result of the Tour de Munster 2022 play a significant role across each Munster branch of DSI, who provide a range of vital supports and services to children and adults with DS and their families.
The 22nd Tour de Munster will start in City Hall, and take the cyclists through Cork Waterford, Tipperary, Limerick, finishing in Killaloe on day one. On day two they will go through Clare and North Kerry to Tralee. Day three will see them face more big climbs over the Conor Pass and Molls Gap as they make their way via Dingle and Killarney toward Kenmare. The final day starts with a climb over the Caha Pass and finishes in Cork city.