Sanctuary Runners: Cork group spearheads Olympic effort to help those in direct provision keep fit

Sanctuary Runners: Cork group spearheads Olympic effort to help those in direct provision keep fit
Claire Lambe, who rowed for Ireland at the Rio 2016 Olympic, gives weekly live  exercise sessions from her home in Cork via Zoom to fellow Sanctuary Runners - many of whom are in Direct Provision centres across Ireland. Photo Montage: Clare Keogh  

Irish Olympians are helping asylum seekers in direct provision to get weekly exercise during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the initiative — led by Olympic rower Claire Lambe — Olympians, asylum seekers, and refugees are coming together virtually to exercise each week.

A member of the Sanctuary Runners’ Movement, Ms Lambe gives online exercise classes called #SanctuaryStrength each Saturday morning, which sees hundreds logging onto Zoom to stay in shape.

She has now recruited fellow Olympians to film workouts from their homes which Sanctuary Runners can access each week.

Speaking about the idea for her #SanctuaryStrength classes, Ms Lambe said: “Normally we’d meet up to run every week, but because of the Covid-19 crisis that’s not possible. So I thought, why not use technology to connect people and ensure they stay fit and healthy during this, even if they are living in the confined space of a direct provision centre?”

The #SanctuaryStrength class takes place every Saturday morning at 11am and is available to all Sanctuary Runners members.

Sanctuary Runner member Deborah Oniah said that the class makes members “feel connected” even though they are apart.

Photo Montage: Clare Keogh  
Photo Montage: Clare Keogh  

Ms Oniah who lives in direct provision in Cork, said: “It’s very difficult for many in direct provision to exercise during this crisis, and energy levels can drop, but the #SanctuaryStrength class really lifts us, makes us stronger and lets us know there are people thinking of us and loving us.

“You don’t need lots of space to do the workout and it’s recorded and sent to us so we can do it over and over again during the week.”

Other Olympians who have also joined in on the initiative include silver medalist sailor Annalise Murphy, track-and-field athlete Thomas Barr, rowing champion and Cork’s Person of the Month for March Sanita Puspure, pentathlete Natalya Coyle, and runner Ciarán O’Lionáird, who is sending exercises all the way from the United States.

Sanctuary Runners founder Graham Clifford, said that the initiative enables people to show solidarity, friendship, and respect to those in direct provision during the crisis.

“For people living in direct provision the ability to exercise now will be greatly diminished and people in centres are stressed because the chance of catching the virus is greater than for the rest of us. Many are living in confined spaces, sharing bedrooms, bathrooms, eating areas and so on. This enables people to exercise, to feel that virtual hand of friendship over their shoulder.”

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