We're gearing up to do our 10th mini marathon in aid of COPE

When Cork mother and daughter Joan and Katie O’Brien take part in The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon, virtual race, to raise funds for Cope Foundation — it will be their tenth time taking part, writes Chris Dunne
We're gearing up to do our 10th mini marathon in aid of COPE

Joan O'Brien with daughters (from left) Lynda, Katie and Laura. (absent is daughter Karen)

HAVING four ‘Little Women’ in the house is a recipe for an exciting, interesting, fun-filled life, brimming with humour and love — even if dad is seriously outnumbered.

“Katie’s three sisters always treated Katie as one of the girls,” says mum of four, Joan O’Brien from Cloyne.

Katie, 29, who lives at home with Joan and her dad James, is never molly-coddled.

“I’d be saying to Katie’s sisters to go easy on her when they are laughing and joking with Katie — but she loves every minute of it!”

And probably gives as good as she gets?

“That’s for sure!” says Joan, laughing.

Katie, supported by the Cope Hub Midleton, is taking part in the The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon, a virtual ‘6K Your Way’ on September 20 for Cope with her mother for the 10th year in a row.

Will she be doing the mini-marathon, ‘her way’ this year?

Joan laughs.

“Katie is a lady who knows her own mind, what she wants and what she wants to do. During Covid-19 we have been walking 5km together most evenings and Katie is really enjoying getting in better shape for the 6km walk on September 20,” says Joan.

 Joan O'Brien, Cloyne and her daughter Katie, who uses the Cope Hub in Midleton.
 Joan O'Brien, Cloyne and her daughter Katie, who uses the Cope Hub in Midleton.

Mother and daughter enjoy each other’s company.

“Walking is a great way to get out and about, especially when the Cope Hub in Midleton was closed for five months due to the pandemic. Katie is used to going to the Hub four days a week. She looks forward to it and she likes the routine.”

During her training for her 10th min marathon, Katie was in her element — she got into her own rhythm and upped the pace alongside her mother, walking and talking, benefiting from the brain nourishing, healthy release of endorphins and the feelgood factor of physical exercise.

“She lost more than 11 pounds and she looks much slimmer! Her muscle tone has really improved,” says Joan.

Katie and Joan walk their way to happiness.

“When I started walking, Katie joined me. We walk 5km seven days a week. It’s great to get out and about doing different walks.”

The duo are looking forward to doing this year’s mini marathon, with a few more supporters in tow.

“My grandchildren will be coming along with us this year,” says Joan.

They have fond memories of taking part in recent years.

“We’ve always loved the day out and the fantastic buzz of The Echo Virtual Women’s Mini-Marathon,” says Joan.

“Finishing it is always a great feeling.”

This year things will be different.

“My two grandchildren are walking the 6km with Katie and I-and we are pushing the younger ones in the buggy,” says Joan, who is a seasoned walker.

“I have four grandchildren and another one due in November. It’s lovely looking forward to that.”

Joan and Katie, like mothers and daughters everywhere, have a special bond.

“Now it is just the three of us here at home,” says Joan, who was well used to the chaos, drama and boundless energy of raising four sisters under the one roof.

“Katie has a special bond with me. She depends on me totally. We do everything together. She loves coming on holidays with her dad and me.”

Charlie, Laura and Ella Eaton, Joan O'Brien, daughter Katie, Liam and Lynda Cullinane, Eoin O'Brien and Seamus O'Brien, training for the mini marathon.
Charlie, Laura and Ella Eaton, Joan O'Brien, daughter Katie, Liam and Lynda Cullinane, Eoin O'Brien and Seamus O'Brien, training for the mini marathon.

Katie loves smallies.

“When I’m minding the grandchildren during the day, Katie really gets stuck in playing with them,” says Joan.

Katie adores her niece and nephews.

“She loves the smallies and they love her. Katie really identifies with children. Like the children, birthdays and Christmas are a huge deal for Katie.”

Katie doesn’t do things by halves.

“She loves wrapping presents and she much prefers getting gifts of presents rather than getting money,” says Joan.

“It’s all about the surprise and opening up the presents! Katie looks forward to Christmas in July!”

Joan, already well versed in raising daughters, looked forward to welcoming her fourth daughter, Katie, into the bosom of the O’Brien fold when she was born.

“Katie was jaundiced and she was kept in hospital in the neo-natal unit for a few days,” recalls Joan.

“She had to have a blood transfusion because of the build up of bilirubin in her blood. She was born on Tuesday and she had the blood transfusion on Sunday. Katie came home two days later.”

But the newborn had to return to hospital for another blood transfusion.

“When she had her check up at the out-patients’ clinic three weeks later, the hospital informed us Katie was anaemic and she had to have another blood transfusion due to a reaction she had because of a build up of antibodies in the blood.”

Were Joan and James worried?

“Not at that point,” says Joan.

“But we were worried about the delay in Katie getting the first blood transfusion. She was born on Tuesday and received the first blood transfusion on Sunday.”

There was a delay in Katie’s development.

“I was worried when Katie seemed to be floppy and she didn’t seem to be developing or progressing as she should be,” says Joan.

“She didn’t seem to focus properly or react to people immediately. I thought her reaction to things was dangerously slow. And her co-ordination and balance was off kilter.”

 Joan O'Brien, right, and daughter Katie in training.
 Joan O'Brien, right, and daughter Katie in training.

Joan’s natural maternal instinct kicked in.

“I had had three babies already, so I was aware Katie wasn’t progressing like she should,” says Joan.

“We decided to seek a second opinion in Dublin where we might learn more about Katie’s condition.”

The O’Briens were told that the right side of Katie’s brain was slightly more affected than the other side.

“The information reaching the right side of her brain was slower.

“It took us two years to get a diagnosis,” say Joan.

“When I took Katie out walking with me, she would fall helplessly. So we could never leave her go out on her own or go on public transport alone,” says Joan.

Katie wasn’t alone starting school.

“She started mainstream school in Cloyne,” says Joan.

Katie was an able pupil.

“She was a pupil there up until 6th class,” says Joan.

“But she wasn’t able to go to secondary school. Katie has a degree of dyslexia as well.”

She’s well able to communicate though.

“Yes, says Joan, smiling.

“Katie has her own way of texting that we all understand.”

Katie sat her Junior Cert and she did well.

“She went to the QDS Cope community Hub in Togher providing adult services before joining the Cope Midleton Hub when she was 19,” says Joan.

Being nearer home was a good thing.

“It was great for us when the Hub in Midleton opened in 2019 because it meant less travelling for Katie. Getting buses and commuting to Togher was a bit stressful.”

Katie felt right at home at the Cope Hub Midleton.

“She loves helping out in the garden there,” says Joan.

“And she has made great friends at the Hub. During Covid-19 they all kept in contact through their Whatsapp group and through Zoom. They are all a great bunch of pals.”

The group at Cope Midleton Hub are supported through person-centred services and supports. The community hub allows people with intellectual disability live the life they want. Through a team of six, the hub currently assists 12 young adults and use a person centred plan from which they decide what they want to do. The team are supported by staff implementing each plan on their behalf.

Now the family get a chance to give back to the wonderful service, by fundraising for Cope.

“We have got sponsorship for the mini-marathon from all the family,” says Joan.

“My grandchildren are members of St Coleman’s GAA Club in Cloyne and the club are donating to our walk for Cope.

“We’re looking forward to taking part in The Echo Women’s Mini-Marathon like we do every year.”

The marathon takes place on September 20.


Today we have dedicated our Women on Wednesday (Wow!) supplement to The Echo Virtual Women's Mini Marathon.

More in this section

Sponsored Content


Catch up on the latest episode of Annie May and the Hit Brigade written and read by  Mahito Indi Henderson.

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more