TO complete a marathon is an accomplishment in itself and something that a lot of people aspire to. Imagine then, to have 500 of them achieved at home and abroad – and all while confined to a wheelchair.
There is no doubt that Jerry Forde from Blarney is one the country’s best-known and popular athletes, a familiar and smiling face at road races at every distance, come rain, hail or shine.
The year just gone has seen the Galway native reach not alone the above-mentioned marathon tally but it also marks 30 years since he first took to the roads.
On a fine May evening in 1992, competitors were surprised to hear the late Jerry Mohally, then organiser of the Pfizer six-mile race, announce at the start that they would be joined by a man in a wheelchair and, as they say, the rest is history.
A week later, it was on to Ballyandreen where Jerry encountered some tough hills for the first time. But like all the obstacles he has faced in life, these he conquered with the same determination and single-mindedness that has marked his 72 years.
With a total of 499 marathons clocked up, that resolve to get the job done was certainly evident as 2022 drew to a close, as he explains: “I had planned to do my 500th at Clonakilty on the last Saturday in November but that was called off due to the floods, so I decided to go to Malaga in Spain instead.
“I thought that was probably the last one I could do before the end of the year, I wanted to get it done and over with so to be able to start afresh for 2023,” says Jerry, a member of the Blarney-Inniscarra club, along with the 100 Marathon Club of Ireland.
Jerry was born with Spina Bifida, which meant he spent most of his early years lying on his face and hands. When he was allowed to get up, it was in a wheelchair, although he couldn’t push himself along.
“Later, when I moved to another hospital they had chairs that you could push yourself and that was great,” he recalled years later.
At the age of 20, after living in the Cheshire Home in Cork since he was 12, one day after a disagreement he walked out. “On one leg and crutches, it was a bit dicey,” he remembers.
Eventually, he went back to Clarinbridge in Galway, where he’s originally from. “It was thought that I might come back to the Cheshire Home but instead I went to HELP Industries on Vicars Road, which is run by COPE and trains disabled people for employment.”
After that summer of 1992 on the Cork roads, Jerry headed off to Dublin in the autumn where he achieved his first finish over the 26.2-mile distance. Although it would be a year later, again in the capital, before his next marathon, shortly after that the bug took over and the numbers mounted up.
Taunton in Somerset was the venue for his 50th, the 100th was an ultra-marathon (39.3 miles) in Connemara and it was back to Dublin in 2011 for number 200. Clonakilty in 2014 saw number 300 achieved and, appropriately enough, in his home city of Galway he clocked up his 400th three years ago.
Some of the venues visited on his travels include Berlin, Las Vegas, Lisbon, Chicago, Beijing, Niagara Falls and Nashville. Back in July of 2013, Jerry completed 10 marathons in 10 days at Sixmilebridge in County Clare.
“I’m as enthusiastic as ever and I haven’t a notion of retiring or anything,” concludes this remarkable and inspirational man whose cheery smile and word of encouragement is so much part of the road racing scene at home and abroad for over three decades.