NICHOLA Power may be taking part in the 600km Tour De Munster for the first time this month, but her daughter, Caoimhe, who is nine and who has Down Syndrome, could give a run for her money.
“My bike is called Emily,” she tells me as she shows me the classy bicycle from her kitchen window.
“I have a friend at school called Emily too and she came for a sleep-over.”
Caoimhe’s sister, Cliona, aged six, is not to be outdone. She points out her bike to me too.
“There is my bike, she says. “It is a Frozen one.”
Mum’s bike though, is a meaner machine; a Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2.
Nichola, a member of the Cobh Triathlon Club, had planned to take part in the Tour De Munster last year, but nine-month- old Cara put paid to that.
“When I got pregnant I had to press the pause button,” says Nichola, “and put my plans on hold. I’m all set this year though!”
This year marks the 17th year of the fund-raising cycle and the three Power girls will be cheering their mother home right until the final frantic sprint to the top of St Patrick’s Hill.
The Tour De Munster raised €285,655 for Down Syndrome in 2016. Since its inception in 2001, the event has raised €2.4 million for its beneficiaries and more than €1.9 million for DSI alone, making a tremendous difference to people with Down Syndrome and their families.
“Since Caoimhe was born, our main priority was that she could communicate herself,” says Nichola. “The funds raised by the Tour de Munster for the Munster branches of Down Syndrome is huge. The funds make it possible for therapies like speech and language development.
“Caoimhe and Cliona are pupils at Bunscoil Rinn Chabhlaigh. Caoimhe is getting on great there.”
The girls are excited about the forthcoming school term, it promises new friends and new teachers.
“Miss Kelleher and Mr Clohessy are my teachers in September,” says Caoimhe, bursting with chat. “I’m going into 4th class,” she adds importantly.
Nichola has wanted to take part in the cycle since Caoimhe was born.
“My friend, Jackie, took part in the cycle when she was 50,” she explains. “She was a huge inspiration for me. Jackie put it into my head.”
Nichola was a bystander at the finish.
“Watching the finish at Patrick’s Hill was so emotional,” she says. “I adopted a cyclist and that added to my enthusiasm. My mind was made up.”
The ‘Adopt a Cyclist Programme’ operates where participants’ names and addresses are given to Down Syndrome branch members and they can write to the cyclists, sharing their stories.
Nichola might have the dream bike, but was she fit enough to fulfil her dream to take part in the Tour de Munster?
“I was always sporty,” says Nicola. “I did a fair bit of cycling with the Cobh Triathlon Club. This year, I joined the Peddling Pirates and I cycled to Tipperary with them.
“When Cathal, my husband, who is in the navy, came home from the Lebanon in July last year, I told him that I planned to do the cycle,” says Nichola.
“And I told him to being us home toys,” chips in Cliona, giggling.
Nicola went about getting fit after Cara was born in December.
“I went to Liz Cronin of Movement for Mums at the end of January,” says Nichola. “She is brilliant. We worked on getting the core strong and I did my first long cycle, 60km, with Jackie’s husband, Ray.
“Then I started going to the training sessions with Paul Sheridan on Mondays and Wednesdays.
“The girls call it Mummy’s cycling club. At weekends I go off on longer spins with the Triathlon Club and the Peddling Pirates Club. I’ve never looked back.”
Nichola built up her endurance gradually on a starter bike before investing in the Liv Avail Advanced Pro.
“The bike is easy to handle and it has disc brakes which are easy to press,” she explains.
She has a great training ground.
“The hills around Cobh are fairly testing,” she says. “You wouldn’t be long building up fitness cycling up and down them. I think the triathlons I take part in play a big part in my fitness levels too.
“Endurance is a big deal. When I did the Cobh 10k road race with my sister, my confidence got a great boost. After all, the Tour de Munster is a different ball game.”
It is no walk in the park.
“No, agrees Nichola. “It’s not. Training must be consistent. Putting in the hours in the saddle is important.”
Team Nichola are great supporters. They motivate her to give every drop of what’s left in the tank.
“Granny and Grandad are only up the road,” says Nichola. “The support from family and friends is massive.
“Cathal is great when he has time off work. I’ve never been away from home for four days before. It will be a new experience for me and an eye-opener for him!”
The training is paying off. Nichola is ready to roll. She’s put in the hard gruelling hours, cycling miles and miles in all weathers.
“I train at a steady pace,” says Nichola. “It is surprising how quickly the start date of the Tour de Munster comes round.
“The cyclists who are training with Paul for the Tour De Munster are all very supportive. Newbies are really well looked after.
“The training is very structured with a road captain to guide us and a sweeper to keep tabs on us; nobody is ever left behind. Hammer drops are where the group take off hell for leather, we cycle on strong, meeting up after 45km. Then we form into groups again and continue. I know the Tour de Munster will be a fantastic experience for everybody involved.”
Does Nichola ever get weary or fatigued?
“You know, cycling is great stimulation for me,” says Nichola.
“I love being out on the road. You can lose yourself. I think it’s part of who I am. Cycling long distance strengthens the mind and the body. After a long cycle I come back and I’m ready to muck in.”
Being a Tipperary native is part of who Nichola is too.
“Yes, We’ll be following Tipp’s fortunes on their way to the All Ireland. That is for sure,” she adds.
Caoimhe is shouting for her mother’s county.
“I have a number 8 Tipperary jersey,” she says proudly. “My godfather, Bill, gave it to me.”
Caoimhe is her mother’s number one fan. After cheering their mother home to the triumphant finish on St Patrick’s Hill, the girls are looking forward to another tour.
“We are going to see our cousins in Holland for our holidays,” says Caoimhe.
Nichola may be going places, changing the lives of others in her fund-raising efforts, but her girls are following close in her wake.
The Tour de Munster takes place from tomorrow, Thursday August 10, to August 14. The 600km route starts at City Hall, on to Waterford, Tipperary, Limerick, Clare, North Kerry, climbing the Conor Pass, Molls Gap, culminating in a climb over Caha Pass, finishing on St Patrick’s Hill, Cork City. For more see www.tourdemunster.ie