IRELAND’S first legally blind solicitor, 34-year old Sinead Kane, never allows obstacles to stand in her way of achieving goals.
The Youghal native was recently recognised as one of Munster’s Ten Outstanding Young People by Junior Chamber International (JCI) Cork and has been selected to go forward for national recognition — and possibly international recognition — in Donegal on May 13.
As well as her professional achievements, Sinead, who gives motivational talks to young people, completed the World Marathon Challenge, running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, in January of this year.
She is the world’s first visually impaired person to complete the World Marathon Challenge and is hoping to earn a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. For the marathon, she was accompanied by a guide runner as Sinead can’t see anything beyond about six feet.
But, despite her victories, Sinead’s life has been affected by bullying and letdowns.
Having worked for the Legal Aid Board on a temporary contract, she is currently doing a doctorate at DCU (Dublin City University). Her thesis is on teachers’ duty of care inside and outside the classroom, with regard to bullying.
The choice of subject matter for her doctorate is influenced by her own experiences.
She says she suffered incidents of bullying in her childhood.
“In secondary school, I was never really part of any particular group,” says Sinead. “The isolation turned me into an introvert with low self-esteem and low confidence. Even now, I have difficulties trusting people. That lives on but you can’t fully live in the past; you have to look forward.”
Sinead uses a white cane.
“I can see about six feet ahead of me. I go by shapes and objects and colours. If there is a pole that’s four feet away from me, I can see that there’s something there. But I’d be confused as to whether it’s actually a person or a pole.”
When it comes to working, Sinead uses zoom text software on her computer.
“Other people can see the whole screen whereas, with me, because I magnify what I need to look at, I’m only seeing sections of the screen.
“It can be very frustrating. It’s like if you pinch in and out of a photograph with your fingers, you only get to see certain sections. That’s the way it is for me.”
Sinead also uses a magnifying glass for reading.
“I only see two or three words at a time. It makes things extra long. It might take (a fully sighted person) two minutes to read a few sentences whereas with me, it takes four minutes.”
Despite this, Sinead is managing to work steadily on her doctorate.
“I think everyone has the perception that a doctorate is about an ability test and that you must be super-intelligent to do one. From my experience, it’s actually a personality test. To do a doctorate, you need to be very self-motivated and self-disciplined.
“If I don’t summarise my articles or correct my drafts, nobody is going to be standing there slapping me on the hand. At the end of the day, my supervisors don’t really care whether or not I hand in my thesis because they have their permanent jobs.”
Sinead admits that working on her doctorate “is a very lonely journey.”
“I’m by myself a lot of the time and have to keep motivating myself.”
How does she manage to do that?
“It’s about having people in your life who believe in you. It’s also about nourishing your own mind on a daily basis.
“I listen to motivational tapes and TED talks. I try to keep remembering the reason why I’m doing the doctorate. It’s because I’m passionate about the topic. I see it as a springboard for other opportunities. I have to keep telling myself that.”
When it comes to running in the World Marathon Challenge, Sinead kept herself going by telling herself that pain is temporary.
“I tell myself that there are other people who are worse off. Also, I reminded myself that the feeling of giving up would last a lot longer than the feeling of trying to keep going.”
Only two weeks after returning from the World Marathon Challenge, Sinead completed her first 24 hour race on an indoor track.
“A lot of people were telling me I shouldn’t do it as I wasn’t recovered from the marathon. But I felt fine apart from my feet being badly blistered. I was emotionally suffering, upset that the World Marathon Challenge was over after all the build-up to it and the excitement.
“It was easy to do the marathon in one way because there was a finish line. However, with my disability, there is no finish line.”
Sinead says there were a few times she felt like throwing in the towel in the marathon.
“That happened in Antarctica when it was minus 30 degrees. And there were occasions when the course didn’t suit me being visually impaired. When there were trees in the centre of pavements, I had to walk side by side with my guide runner, rather than run.”
People tend to only see “the glamour of completing a marathon. They don’t see the hard work you have to do in the year leading up to it. They don’t see the rejection I felt during the year while trying to get sponsorship.”
Sinead succeeded in getting sponsorship from Allianz.
But despite her sometimes negative experiences, she is not one to brood on them. She was awarded a Sportsmanship Award worth $10,000 and gave the money to Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.
She is involved in various charities and will be doing a marathon in Limerick in aid of the Cliona Foundation which supports children and families affected by brain cancer. She is a director of Able Vision Ireland and volunteered for Child Line for seven years.
Sinead’s values “are about humanity, serving people and giving back to society. If people offer me kindness, I offer it on.”
Also competing from Munster at the JCI awards in Donegal will be the O’Donovan brothers from Skibbereen and Grainne Dwyer, CEO of the Ludgate Initiative in Skibbereen.
The JCI global awards will take place in November in the Netherlands.
JCI Cork is part of Junior Chamber International a worldwide non-profit organisation of young active citizens age 18 to 40 who are engaged and committed to creating impact in their communities.
It provides a range of activities and projects in four opportunity areas: Individual, Community, International and Business.
The JCI also run activities throughout the year, including The Outstanding Young Person award, Friendly Business awards and Active Citizenship Week.
For more see www.facebook.com/JciIreland or https://www.facebook.com/JuniorChamberCork
Sinead Kane is also the guest speaker at the Network Cork’s Women in Business Awards on Friday May 19, a black tie event which runs in the Rochestown Park Hotel.