Badass, bold and downright ballsy! We put the call out for you, our readers, to let us know about the most amazing women and men from the Irish outdoor and adventure scene in 2022! And you didn’t let us down. And now, we want you to vote for your favourite nominee from all of our categories. This person will be presented with the Hiiker Audience Choice Award at our event on 1 Feb 2023 in the Sugar Club. NB Please be aware this is a grassroots, community event. Please play fair and only vote once.

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If you’re a nominee, consider yourself cordially invited to our annual awards ceremony on the evening of Wednesday 1 February 2023 in the Sugar Club, Dublin. We are thrilled skinny to announce that our fab sponsors are on board to help us celebrate all that is great and good about the Irish adventure scene, so it’s guaranteed to be a good party. Our hugely generous title sponsor is Sport Ireland. And our other supporting sponsors are #2MinuteBeachClean, #2MinuteStreetClean, CraghoppersLeave No Trace, Hiiker, Salewa and Collen Construction.

For everyone else, a limited number of tickets are on sale here. Subscribe to our email newsletter on our homepage to hear more about the Outsider Awards 2022.

We were bowled over by both the quality and quantity of the stories you sent us. So sit down, make yourself comfortable and read the spine-tingling and inspirational stories of these extraordinary people who are now officially on the long list of nominees for the #OutsiderAwards.


Ricki Wynne, ultra mountain runner

Ricki Wynne has always been an athlete. From a young age Ricki played Gaelic football for his local club, Leitrim Gaels. In 2017, at the Portumna Forest 50km Ricki fell in love with the sport. Ricki (40) hails from Drumshambo, County Leitrim. He is one of 3 brothers who have all turned their attention to ultra-running over the past few years. Ricki, a 5″3 ‘aerobic monster’, has reached some impressive heights both metaphorically and physically this year. In June, Ricki set out to run up and down Croagh Patrick a staggering 15 times to snag the Guinness World Record for the most amount of vertical distance ascended and descended on foot in 24 hours.

Remembering the big day, Ricki says, “The pain came on lap 5 and I was thinking, Jesus, this is very early, I’m hurting here. I’m only a couple of hours into this challenge, this isn’t good!”

But Ricki has learnt from previous experience that you just have to settle in when the pain comes. In long-distance running, the discomfort often comes in waves. Luckily this is what happened to Ricki.

“The pain never went away for the rest of the run, but it never got any worse either! So I just accepted it and kept moving forward,” he states.

Ricki managed to complete the challenge. He ran 115km with 12,000m of vertical gain and 12,000m of vertical loss in under 24 hours. Ricki also managed to raise over €37,000 for the Irish Motor Neuron Disease Association.

Read our Interview with Ricki

Conor O’Keeffe, mental health advocate and runner

Before Conor O’Keeffe was well-known as an Irish outdoor influencer/runner he was an unfulfilled, unhappy car salesman that spent too much of his time in the bars and clubs of his home town of Cork chasing a good time. Conor, (31) an outdoor enthusiast and a runner, is now an advocate for men’s mental health, a Pieta house ambassador, a Puma-supported runner and a loving father to his son.

On the 29th of July, the Corkman began Project 32. Project 32 was a challenge that Conor came up with back in 2019. To run a marathon on consecutive days in every county in Ireland, starting with a 32lb vest on and losing 1lb from the vest every day to symbolise the relief that someone struggling with their mental health may feel when they share their problems.

Conor decided to use this challenge as a way to spread the word about mental health because he has found that when people run together they share things that they may not have shared otherwise. Similar to a campfire. “I wanted to bring this campfire around with me. We’ll run in every single county of Ireland. That way, people will get the message and spread the message. That was the simplest way of sending this message was through the medium of running. It’s so strange. Most of the time didn’t even have to say a word. My feet did all the talking. Just being out there running the roads like that, people were just finding it helpful.”

Conor successfully completed the challenge and also managed to raise over €67,000 for Pieta house

Read our Interview with Conor

Zak Hanna, International Mountain Runner

Zak Hanna, a 26-year-old mountain runner from County Down, has had an amazing year, beating some of the best in the world!

After experiencing burnout following a few years of junior bike racing, Zak turned his attention to running and, more specifically, mountain running. Equipped with natural talent, Zak soon found his way to a World Championship after winning the trial race, less than one year into his running career. It wasn’t until this year however that Zak believed he deserved to be at the top end of the sport. Through dedication and hard work, Zak has been making his way up through the ranks in an impressively consistent manner now for six years. And in 2022, Zak came away with some incredible results.

“Consistency was a big thing [in 2022] and apart from one race in July (Grossglockner Berglauf, Austria) where I was 13th after not being fully recovered from the Euros, I was happy with how all my races went as well as training and life in general,” states Zak.

The World Mountain Running World Cup is a race series that attracts some of the best runners in the world. Zak managed to finish third behind two Kenyan runners (Patrick Kipngeno and Philemon Ombogo).

The European Championships Uphill took place in July this year in La Palma. This was the first Championship race for many of the competitors in mountain running for a few years. Everyone was primed for action. Zak had an incredible run and managed to pull off an awesome result. “Coming fifth in the World Championships was the icing on the cake for this year and the motivation is higher than ever to achieve a lot more in mountain running,” he says.

The World Championships Uphill took place in Chang Mai in Thailand in November. Against some of the best runners in the world, including ex-world champions, Zak ran a smart, calculated and perfectly executed race to come fifth in the world in the discipline. This is the best Irish result at a world championship since 1986.

Zak now sits sixth in the World Mountain Running Ranking.

Ger Prendergast, endurance athlete

Ger Predergast is a 42-year-old endurance athlete from Ballymun, County Dublin, that works as a fitness instructor, gym owner and triathlon coach. This year Ger added another incredible win to his trophy cabinet, the continuous Deca Ironman!

In 2017, Ger achieved the unthinkable winning the Deca Ironman, where he completed an Ironman triathlon every day for 10 days! Five years later, he came back for more, but this time decided to go after the continuous Deca! This epic challenge involves a 38km (24 miles) swim, 1,800km (1,120 miles) cycle, and a 420km (262 mile) run, all completed one after the other with no significant breaks.

Ger was the only Irishman at this year’s iteration of the race, which yet again proves the impressive standard of athletes that our small country produces! Winning the race with a gap of 4 hours to second place, Ger says he was “on top of the world!” A huge amount of sacrifice, training, and dedication went into his preparation for the continuous Deca. Ger is now one of five people who have finished first in both the ‘An Ironman every day for 10 days’ and the ‘Continuous Deca’ format!

Read more about Ger Prendergast

Eoin Keith, ultra runner

Eoin Keith is a 52-year-old Columbia-sponsored, international ultra-runner from Cork but who lives at the base of the Dublin Mountains. He works in IT but has been pursuing ultra-running at the highest level for many years now, but 2022 may have just been his best year yet!

Eoin won the 400km Summer Spine Race in a new record time of 77h34m. This race covers the entire Pennine Way in England and includes 9,000m of elevation gain. That’s more than the height of Mount Everest! He also came away with 2nd (in the M50 age category) at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc and was 51st overall. This is an incredible result considering the race had over 2,300 runners.

Although Eoin seems to excel in the mountains and on the trails, he also tacked the ‘6 Days in a Dome’ race. “This is a unique six-day event as it is indoors. There is a 3-lane 450m or so running track around the outside of the ice rinks. With no weather variations, and, given that it is indoors, there are no interruptions to the running rhythm caused by the circadian rhythm,” recounts Eoin.

In this race, Eoin covered a staggering 627.9326km to come third. An incredible achievement. Other category wins for Eoin in 2022 include EcoTrail Wicklow 80km, La Gomera 212km, and The Glendalough Tucker Trail 80km, all of which he finished in the overall top 10 also.

Listen to our interview with Eoin Keith

Mark Conclough, open-water swimmer

Hailing from Ballymoney, Co Wexford, 57-year-old father, Mark Conclough, became the oldest Irishman to ever swim across the English Channel in July 2022! This staggering 15-hour effort was punctuated by severe stomach issues, strong currents and mental turmoil. Mark credits the success of his Channel swim to the hours he spent training in the Irish Sea at Courtown, Co Wexford. Mark decided to do this monumental swim to raise funds and awareness for Ataxia Foundation Ireland (AFI) and those living with Friedreich’s Ataxia, an incurable muscle degenerative disease.

Mark successfully raised over €36,000 for AFI. This was achieved through one-time donations as well as from members of the open water swimming community in Ireland that organised their challenges alongside Marks’s Channel swim!

Read more about Mark Conclough’s story

Damian Browne, ocean rower and explorer

Galway-man Damian Browne (39) is a former professional Leinster rugby player turned adventurer and a proud father of one. In June 2022, Damian set off from Manhattan in the United States with the objective of completing a world-record row across the Atlantic.

On Tuesday, June 14 at 03:10 am, alongside his friend Fergus Farrell, Damien began his long journey east towards Galway. Their objective was to complete the 5000km row from New York to Galway in 55 days. Unfortunately, Fergus had to be evacuated from the boat on day 13 due to a medical emergency. This left Damian on the boat by himself with an incredibly daunting task ahead of him, a situation he had experienced before when he completed a solo Atlantic Row in 2017. However, this time it wasn’t the adventure Damian had prepared for.

Over the 100 days that followed, Damian experienced the best and the worst of the Atlantic Ocean. He arrived in Galway on 4 October 20222 after more 2,686 hours at sea and more than 3,450 nautical miles rowed. The row took nearly two months longer than expected and almost ended in tragedy when Damian hit rocks as he was landing in Ireland.

“I can’t explain how challenging the conditions were. Obviously it’s the North Atlantic and it’s very changeable and every change I seemed to get was negative,” recounts Damian.

“I was constantly hit with adverse currents so it was incredibly stressful because you would work so hard and put so much into getting one miles or two miles and then you could come off the oars for 15 minutes and you could have half of that mile wiped out and you’d have to put the head down again to regain it,” he adds.

Damian has tackled many impressive adventures since retiring from professional rugby. He works now as a speaker and has given talks at Facebook, TEDx, Aviva and BMW to name a few. In his talks, Damian discusses mental resilience, self-mastery, and inner drive.

Fergal Sommerville, open-water swimmer

On 20 September 2022, Dubliner Fergal Sommerville (59) completed a 40km crossing of the Bristol Channel in 12 hours 40 minutes. He became the third person in history to swim the longest course from Ilfracombe to Swansea across the Bristol Channel.

Discussing his training, the husband and father of two sons, says, “Every Saturday and Sunday, I swam in the sea, increasing the distance over the summer months and completing a number of gruelling six and eight-hour training swims in preparation for the Bristol Channel.”

Fergal successfully swam across the 25-mile (the furthest he had ever swum) Bristol Channel to raise money for Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association (IMNDA). “At 59, I am, by a long chalk, the oldest, only the third swimmer to complete this crossing; first Irish swimmer, fastest man and second fastest overall.”

Fergal began the swim at 10:48 pm, he swam through the night stopping only to eat or drink. The effort took an incredible 15 hours and 35 minutes of swimming to complete. Fergal completed the swim and managed to raise over €10,000 for IMNDA. Fergal is no stranger to long open water swims though. In 2013 he became the oldest Irishman to ever swim the 20-mile North Channel from Donaghadee, County Down, to Portpatrick in the South West of Scotland.

Fergal is a key member of the open-water swimming community in Ireland and in 2020 was inducted into the Marathon Distance Swimming Ireland Hall of Fame.

Keith Russell, international ultra-runner

Keith Russell (39) is an Irish international ultra runner from Navan, Co Meath, that has taken the ultra-running world by storm in recent years. He finished second in the record-breaking Race Of Champs Backyard masters in May when he ran 596.834km. A backyard ultra is a race in which runners must consecutively run a distance of 6,706m(4.167 miles) in less than one hour. The race is over when only one runner remains to complete a lap in less than an hour. This brutal format is reserved for competitors with the very best mental strength. Keith went toe-to-toe with some of the best runners in the world, including ex world and European champions. He then went on to represent Ireland in the 24-hour European Championships, running a distance of 246.711km.

Speaking about his running, Keith says, “Things like this don’t come easy. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to the sport, but it’s what I love doing.”

Keith began his running journey in 2016 with his daughter Alanna who had severe cerebral palsy. In 2017, he ran Dublin City Marathon with Alanna in a running chair. Six weeks later, Alanna passed away and Keith still carries her with him in his head and heart when racing to this day.

When reflecting on his running year, Keith told us that he decides to avoid focusing on negatives when it comes to performances. “I think you need to stay positive and realise it’s all about learning. I’ve taken so much away from the races I have done and I know I can get better in both of these races. I have reflected on them and I now focus on the races I have qualified for next year.”

Ed McGroarty, ultra runner

Ed McGroarty (45) is a Wicklow man living that is living in Donegal, he is also one of the country’s best ultra runners having captained the Irish 24-hour team in the recent European Championships in Verona, Itlay. He has set and reset the Irish 24-hour record twice, currently 258.82km. Ed has also set a new Irish 100-mile record in a rapid time of 14hr 27min 07sec. This means maintaining an average pace of 5:23 min/km for 100 miles.

In a very short period of time, Ed has gone from being a “good” ultra runner, running the Connemara ultra (40 miles) in 6h08 and the Tralee 100k finishing 5th overall in 2014. From running just shy of the international B standard of 220km in Victoria Park in 2019, to being the National Champion and leading the Irish at international races in 2021. Ed also holds the Fastest Known Time from Malin to Mizen on foot in a time of 3d 1h 55m 15s which he also achieved in 2021.

Ed remains ambitious about progressing in the sport and seeing how far he can go.

Caitriona Jennings, ultra-runner

Olympian and Donegal native Caitriona Jennings (42) added two more incredible achievements to her ever-growing list in 2022. In early January, Caitriona decided that the 100km World Championship would be her main focus for the year and if you’ve ever met an Olympian before, you know that they’re always wanting more.

Caitriona nabbed the bronze medal in the IAU 100km World Championships and also added a gold in the 50km European Championships – both fuelled by her unwavering desire to win.

Juggling her busy life in Hong Kong and time-consuming training schedule, Caitriona makes sure that she does her three key training sessions a week at a minimum. These cover, speed, long runs, and tempo.

A huge challenge off the road arose in the lead-up to the 100km race when a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity opened up and Caitriona decided to grab it with both hands. This cloud did have a silver lining though, as her reduced training schedule allowed her to stay injury free for the entire year.

“In hindsight, it may have helped me to detach from the ultimate goal as I was so focused on work. I had a tendency in the past to overtrain. I certainly couldn’t do that for this race and it helped me be in top condition.”

Moving at a fierce pace, Caitriona completed her 100km race in 7.07.16 and set a new national record for the distance and nabbed the 50 miles record too. No easy feat! But regardless of how tough or gruelling the race got, she never lost focus and strategically worked her way through the field and set herself up to medal.

“Knowing that I was running the last 20km in podium position gave me an incredible lift and I was determined to cross the line without relinquishing that spot.”

Unsurprisingly, training for these races leaves little time for other events – something Caitriona wants to rectify in 2023. Billed as ‘The Ultimate Human Race’, the Comrades Marathon is a 90km ultramarathon starting in Durban, South Africa, that she has set as her main goal for the year, and we all know how that went last year.

Eve McMahon, sailor

Dublin native Eve McMahon (18) completed the incredible feat of becoming the first person ever, male or female, to take home the Triple Crown in youth sailing in 2022. These wins brought her tally to six world championship medals in total. Not too bad for someone who’s just finished her Leaving Cert.

Speaking of her success, Eve says, “I still can’t believe it. It’s such a surreal experience. I put pressure on myself to finish those U-19 events successfully and I’m so glad to come home with the wins.”

Born into a sailing household, Eve followed in her brother’s footsteps by joining in on sailing summer courses and following the pathway through Irish Sailing. She has noticed more and more females getting involved in the sport since she first started and hopes to encourage more to get out on the water.

“I’d like to be the most successful Irish female ILCA 6 sailor ever and be a figurehead for women in sport, especially sailing,” she says.

Finding it tough to balance training with her studies, Eve needed to multitask to make the most out of her time. Cycling plays a big part in the training schedule of a sailor and that became the main focus during her studies as she was forced to mainly train on land to keep fit for events.

Since moving up to the U-21 category and spending time in boats with experienced seniors, Eve has massively improved her mental resilience as there’s no room for error. “I got two yellow flags at an event recently and that put huge pressure on me to perform in the next race, but that type of situation can make you into a better sailor.”

The future looks bright for Eve who’s competing in all the Senior ILCA 6 events in 2023 with the main event being the Senior World Championships in The Hague. And there’s college on top of all this too. But Eve is keeping her feet firmly on the ground.

“You have to believe in yourself, you’ll get hit by some challenges along the way, but don’t shy away. If you believe in yourself, you’ll get there,” she states. 

Elaine Burrows Dillane, open-water swimmer

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Elaine Burrows Dillane (51) achieved her swimming goal of completing the Original Triple Crown in 2022. The feat required the Tralee woman to swim the English Channel, North Channel, and finally, the Bristol Channel, which she ticked off her list in 2022 in an impressive 12 hours and 52 minutes.

“During the 50 years between 1971 and 2021, there were only three swimmers who had completed the Original Triple Crown and they all happened to be men. And only one of them was Irish, so I don’t think I need to explain too much about where my inspiration came from!” she says.

As a self-titled domestic engineer, Elaine’s training schedule works around her life as a mother. Now that her two kids have moved out, she has plenty of time during the winter months to maintain her fitness. Things get busy when the kids come home from college during the summer and her training schedule increases to eight-hour training swims on top of gym sessions and home life as well.

She recounts, “I’m tired when I come home and then you’re a mom and a wife again and have to get your everyday things done also and want to spend quality time with them, but in fairness everyone rows in and helps. They have always been extremely supportive. I suppose after six years we’re in a routine now!”

Looking back on her achievement, Elaine knows that she’s come a long way since her first marathon swim in The English Channel. “The three swims each had their own challenges. You always have to be prepared for the unexpected. I was totally delving into the unknown. Everything was new to me.”

Trying to dodge lion’s mane jellyfish and battling with cold water, Elaine found The North Channel to be extremely tough, but she made it safely across thanks to her determination and her team pushing her on.

Then came her toughest mental challenge, The Bristol Channel. For that swim, the tide unexpectedly turned two hours early and fierce winds and currents picked up at a point when she had already been in the water for nine hours. At one stage Elaine needed moral support from her crew to not lose ground.

She recalls, “I was only crawling forward, every inch was hard won. I had to stay strong. I wasn’t going to let it get the better of me, I was going to be the first Irish woman to do The Bristol Channel and the first Irish woman to accomplish the Original Triple Crown.”

Driven on by glances up to the Irish flag and Kerry flag in her support boat, Elaine achieved her goal and recognises that she couldn’t have done it without her coach Kevin, her crew and the infinite support from her family and friends.

Laura O’Driscoll, mountain runner

Inspired by her adventure-loving Dad, Laura O’Driscoll (40) has found a second home in the mountains and took home two prestigious mountain running wins in 2022. Setting her sights on the ARI Solo National Adventure Race Series and Cape Wrath Ultra in Scotland, not only did Laura win both of these, but she did it while nursing a particularly nasty ankle injury.

Laura’s year was destined to be a tough one after day three of The Cape Wrath Ultra. What started off as a hugely positive first few days of the eight-day, 400km foot race with 11,200m cumulative ascent where she was comfortably leading the field, things soon turned bad. In extremely poor conditions, Laura rolled her ankle leaving her in excruciating pain for the remaining five days. By the end, she had torn her medial ankle ligament, but through her grit and determination, she managed to hold onto the podium.

She states, “I think I still have a bit of PTSD from that race!”

It’s not all pain and suffering though as Laura lives for the outdoors. “I absolutely love adventure racing. It enables me to experience parts of the world, doing the activities I enjoy, in the company of some of the most inspiring and enthusiastic kick-ass individuals out there,” she says.

Having the Cooley Mountains in her back garden, Laura spends her downtime biking, swimming, kayaking, and hiking. “For me, it’s almost like breathing, and the motivation comes from the love of just being out there and feeling alive.”

Grateful for a job that helps with her training, Laura is able to work on her fitness while leading yoga classes, and her work as an architect has a flexible schedule. Ever the busy person, Laura also coaches running and adventure racing, giving herself plenty of opportunities to train for her own events.

“I love the buzz at the events. Seeing the variety of people out there, all shapes and sizes, all ages, challenging yet enjoying themselves, these people motivate me too.”

Once her ankle fully heals, Laura will be back in the mountains with Transgrancanaria and Transalpine already on her schedule for 2023, as well as a Mountain Leader course with her husband Johnny.

Nina McGowan, freediver

Reaching new heights, and depths, in 2022, freediver Nina McGowan (50) made national headlines for her record-breaking achievements by diving to 43m in two minutes and 10 seconds. Making this remarkable feat even more impressive is the fact that she only took up the sport in 2019.

Hailing from Balbriggan in Count Dublin ,and growing up on a harbour and with a scuba diving dad, Nina was destined for a life in the water. After a visit to Dahab in Egypt, a Mecca for free divers, she was hooked.

As a self-proclaimed ‘bio-hacker’, Nina has a huge interest in finding ways to make her body a nice place to live in. Regularly practising yoga and meditation, she finds freediving as a way to release herself into a fully immersive environment.

“The quietness, the abstraction of the undersea experience was always something I yearned for,” she recounts. 

With her past experience as a scuba diver, it wasn’t a huge surprise that Nina became very good at freediving, but what was surprising was how quickly she became great. When she broke the national record on her very first competitive dive, her coach Raphael Vilimiu encouraged her to enter the Master’s category at the The World Underwater Federation (CMAS) world championships.

Nina recalls, “Getting a world record would eclipse my 50th birthday, and be the ultimate gift to myself. Becoming world champion along with getting the record was such a surprise.”

It hasn’t all been easy going though. A burst eardrum, a blackout, and a demanding schedule that sees her fly to Tenerife for training camps make freediving both physically and financially draining.

She says, “I’m still figuring out how to live my land life around my water life, or is it vice-versa?”

But Nina is motivated by keeping her body strong and the feeling of freedom when in the water, even during cold, dark mornings when she’s cycling to the pool.

By her own admission, Nina hadn’t made plans for after the world record attempt, but now she has her sights set on getting into the 50m+ range with no fins and CMAS World Championships in Indoor Pool disciplines in May 2023 in Kuwait.

“I’d love to go back to the World Championships as part of the Irish team and podium again… It doesn’t sound like I’m retiring anytime soon, does it?”

Dr Karen Weekes, rower

Not many people spend 80 days at sea rowing across the mighty Atlantic Ocean on their own without thinking about giving up, but for Dr Karen Weekes (55) never took her eye off the prize. Making the 3,000-mile journey from The Canaries to Barbados, she battled enormous waves that threatened to capsize her in the middle of nowhere. Despite all the threats and dangers, Karen pulled her oars until she crossed the ocean and became the first Irish woman to row solo across the Atlantic.

As an ultra-endurance athlete who was born in Dublin but who now calls Kinvara in Galway home, Karen has travelled the world completing incredible feats along the way. She’s circumnavigated Ireland in her kayak, cycled from Bodo in Norway to Galway, and trekked the highest mountains in the world. According to Karen, rowing across the Atlantic was “the next level up for athletes like me”. Inspiring people as she goes, the SHECANDO campaign is a new adventure for Karen as she encourages women and girls to push themselves out of their comfort zone.

All of Karen’s amazing achievements come down to proper planning and adopting the right mental approach, which isn’t unexpected as she is also a psychologist. Through her research, she’s become an expert at developing coping strategies, which undoubtedly help her reach her goals. Even with the proper planning and correct mental approach, rowing across the Atlantic is no easy thing to do,

“Being the solo decision maker in an intense situation like that for 80 days straight was pretty challenging,” she recounts.

Karen didn’t set out to break any records, but in hindsight is happy that she’s done so as her family has yet another thing to be proud of. Not one to sit around for too long, she’s already planning her next adventure, but she’s keeping that a secret for now.

Ellen Vitting, mountain runner

It takes a certain type of person to enter an event that makes you run 55km of trail over mountains, climbing over 4,000m in height. But not only does Kerry’s Ellen Vitting (37) enter these races, she enters them to win. In 2022, Ellen won the 55km long Seven Sisters Skyline in Donegal and the 200km long Kerry Way Ultra. She was also one of the competitors who made it the the end of RTE’s Ultimate Hell Week.

“I love different challenges and once I see something that interests and excites me I can’t get it out of my head. I am determined to give it a go,” she says.

“Honestly I love sports and the outdoors, especially the sea and mountains. I always feel better after being out and that knowledge is all the motivation I need. Motivation is rarely the issue, it’s the shortage of time to do everything I want that’s the issue,” she adds.

Furthermore, Ellen manages to balance this with being a mother to two children with some creative problem solving.

“I have also been known to run around the football pitch as my son trains or take kids with me to do short sprints where they can join in,” she recounts.

And when the kids aren’t around, Ellen is running out the door as soon as there’s a gap in her schedule and she combines these ad hoc sessions with longer weekend runs.

On her way to winning the Seven Sisters Skyline, Kerry Way Ultra, and finishing Ultimate Hell Week, there have been difficult moments and even moments of doubt. Even with all her wealth of experience, Ellen still finds it difficult to hit the nutritional nail on the head. Combining this with racing through the night and battling sleep deprivation, her mood can plummet. But she manages to keep herself going,

She states, “I remind myself of how lucky I am that I can do these events and also that I have never looked back and regretted any of these events so I know it’s worth it to keep going.”

After a very busy and successful 2022, Ellen is taking her time planning her schedule for the year, but there’s a very good chance that we’ll see her on the podium again.

Rocco Wright, sailor

Rocco Wright, a 16-year-old sailor for Howth Yacht Club in Co Dublin, has become a household name in sailing in recent years. The teenager has been nominated for Irish Sailor of the Year four times in the past few years. Rocco has been due a breakthrough year and this year may just have been it!

Following an incredible win at the u21 World Championships in the Netherlands in July, Rocco headed to the Senior European Championships with an air of confidence. However, the jump up to senior racing presents a deeper talent pool and a higher standard. However, Rocco held his own and managed to pull off a win on this big stage in the ILCA6 Men’s European Championship on the Côte d’Azur.

The ILCA6 Men’s event is the stepping-stone class to senior-level competition for the ILCA7 used at the Olympic Games. Rocco’s win at the European Championships bodes very well for the future of Irish Sailing at the biggest competitions in the world.

Dave Berry, open-water swimmer

Dave Berry is a 47-year-old Dublin native that has exploded onto the long-distance swimming scene in Ireland. This year Dave was awarded the 2022 Male Senior Swimmer of the Year by the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association.

This year Dave has seen a massive progression into the sport after completing 13 registered Irish Long Distance Swimming Association events and crossings, including completing a 33.5km English Channel crossing in 12 hours 35 minutes. In June, Dave also completed a 32.3km crossing of the Catalina Channel in 12 hours and 6 minutes. An amazing set of achievements for a man who, up until not long ago, had never swum further than 7km!

We are excited to see Dave continue to tackle more marathon distance challenges!

Damien Wildes, paddleboarder

On 8 August 2022, Damien Wildes, a 34-year-old husband and Dad of two, decided to paddleboard across the Irish Sea. Not content with the severity of this challenge, Damien decided to up the stakes and do it on his belly, or ‘prone’. It was a monumental effort that took 14 hours and 59 minutes of non-stop paddling.

The appeal of putting yourself in dark places, in both a physical and mental sense, and working to get yourself out is a great way to see what you can achieve,” he states.

Damien set off from Holyhead at 6:31 am. Over the next 15 hours and 98km, he would experience sunburn, jellyfish stings, and some of the worst chafing imaginable! While this incredible challenge was always a personal challenge for Damien, he was “delighted to raise some funds for three locally based charities: Purple House Cancer Support, Wicklow RNLI, and Sharpeshill WSPCA which made the experience all the more worthwhile.”

Read our Interview with Damien Wildes

Oisín van Gelderen, windsurfer

Oisín van Gelderen took windsurfing lessons while on holiday in Killary, Connemara, in 1986 and hasn’t stopped since! Roll on to 2022 and the 52-year-old Dubliner was having a simply fantastic year  Oisín competed in the Sailing Speed World Record Attempt in Namibia and came sixth and set a new Irish sailing speed record at 49.87 knots (57.4mph).

It was a huge challenge to windsurf in 60+ knots of wind (storm force 10), on a tiny board wearing 16kg of lead, at speeds up to 97kmph. But Oisín has trained his whole life to be able to windsurf in conditions like this. 

When asked why he did it, Oisín says it was to see if it was possible for a 81kg windsurfer to join the biggest, fastest guys in the world and find his limits. Another goal was to establish the Irish sailing speed record, and to try and inspire other sailors and windsurfers to progress in the process. 

Windsurfing gives Oisín a feeling of total freedom. “No matter what goes on, once you are on the water, phones/emails/work all dissolve away,” he states. 

Ireland has some of the best windsurfing conditions in the world, with beaches everywhere and no end of wind. “We are blessed to have this playground and are the envy of many countries,” he adds.

The highlight of his challenge in Namibia was when the forecast came good on the last two days. Oisín recalls, “It all lined up, and I stood in the start box with the fastest guys in the world and held my own, ending fourth fastest on both of the last two days.”

Oisín isn’t finished yet either. He still wants to push the Irish sailing speed record to over 50 knots, and there is also a number of big wave spots that he wants to windsurf, such as Mullaghmore in Sligo.  

Chris Cumming, mountain biker 

Chris Cumming is passionate about his sport. The 20-year-old professional mountain biker from Warrenpoint, Co Down, has competed in the UCI Mountain World Cup and the Downhill World Championships. And in 2022, he competed in what is arguably the hardest downhill race in the world—the RedBull Hardline.

Chris started mountain biking with his uncle when he was 10. At the time, the local council in Warrenpoint started to build MTB trails and his family was in charge of the trailhead and renting bikes to the public.

“Mountain biking is special to me as I get to travel around the world, riding and racing bikes as fast as I can,” he says. “That feeling of getting on the podium or winning…there is no other feeling like it! I also get to meet so many cool people who are now some of my best friends.”

Chris has had to overcome injuries in the last three years, but he’s never had a thought of giving up as he’s put so much time and effort into getting where he is today. His parents, Mark and Jennifer, invested and believed in him from the very start, which is also a big incentive for Chris to keep going.

“The highlight of it all is getting down the mountain with an amazing time and getting that feeling I can’t even describe.”

So what’s next for this mountain biking star? “I’m currently in South Africa training for the 2023 season,” he says. In the off season, he trains for five to six months on his bike, in the gym and at team camps in Europe. 

Dan Clohessy, freestyle kayaking and scout

Venture Scout Dan Clohessy (16) has proven himself to be a formidable outdoorsman, not only competing at a high level in his own sport of freestyle kayaking, but equally finding the time to mentor and support his peers and volunteer adults in skills training and activity management. 

Dan is an avid paddler, having grown up on the shores of Malahide Estuary in north County Dublin and is a member of the local Sea Scouts. With the estuary’s unique whitewater and tidal flows, Dan developed and honed his skill and was selected to join the Irish Freestyle team at the tender age of 15. 

This year, Dan competed as an Irish athlete at the Freestyle Kayaking World Championships and was exceptional. Alongside this, Dan has been a key player and a role-model supporting water activities at Malahide Sea Scouts. As Deputy Boatmaster, Dan plays an influential role with his peers in developing the skills and activity on the water. 

This year, in addition to his World Championship training, Dan took on two huge projects: officer of the Day for the National Sea Scout Sailing Regatta and leading his scout group’s sailing certificate training. At the National Sea Scout Sailing Regatta, Dan led the team organising and running this massive, prestigious and complex event with great success. As for the sailing certificate training, this involved planning and managing a dozen tuition sessions to National Governing Body standard. What an inspiration and dedication from a wonderful teenager!

Callum Curtin, big wave surfer

Callum Curtin might only be 18-year-old, but he’s already taking on the mammoth waves that hit Ireland’s shores when the conditions are right. The teenager from Spanish Point in Co. Clare says he likes to push himself to see what he’s capable of. Turns out, he’s capable of riding some serious waves! 

Callum started surfing at a young age when he started going down to the beach during the summer with his friends to rent surfboards. He soon fell in love with the sport. “What makes it so special is we have some of the best waves in the world,” he says.

Right now, Callum says he’s just learning and putting in his time. “I started surfing heavy waves last winter, so it’s a new experience, but I love it.” He surfs mostly on the west coast of Ireland. The waves he takes on are massive—15- to 20-feet. But, he says that size doesn’t really matter too much to him. “Once there’s good waves to surf, I’m stoked,” he recounts.

Callum has been described in surfing magazines as “a young gun…pushing it for a few seasons now at Ireland’s heaviest waves”. With a small group of fellow surfers, he recently surfed Riley’s—a remote mutant wave that breaks over shallow reef in County Clare. 

Conditions in Mullaghmore were epic at the end of November. Callum was there, joined by a few others including senior Irish surf correspondent and surfer, Dylan Stott. While Callum might be modest about his achievements, Dylan was impressed by what he saw that day.

“With all the talent running around surfing in new and previously impossible ways, the most impressive thing I’ve seen in this run of swell is the emotional maturity of young Callum,” wrote Dylan for Magic Seaweed.

Extreme Winter Relay North Channel swimmers

On 14 January 2022, a relay team took on the epic challenge of relay swimming the North Channel from Northern Ireland to Scotland. That team consisted of Ger Kennedy, Declan Bradshaw, Vincent Donegan, Colm Morris and Niamh McCarthy, along with team manager Ger Devin, emergency medical technician Barry Patterson, and escort pilot Pádraig Mallon. The team became the first group to complete a crossing of the North Channel in winter.

This 21-mile crossing is notorious for being a very difficult open-water swim even in the summer months. The five male and one female team completed the swim in 12 hours 51 minutes which was over an hour faster than anticipated by the leader of the team Ger Kennedy (AKA Dr. Ice). The water temperature measured a freezing 8.4 degrees Celsius on the day of the crossing.

During the swim, the team’s vitals were monitored by a doctor every 15 minutes including their core body temperature, oxygen levels and recover rate to ensure they were safe to continue.

Elmarie O’Brien, mountain biker

Where an amputation would’ve deterred some, Cork’s Elmarie O’Brien (24) hasn’t let it slow her down in the slightest. Losing her arm in an accident at the age of three, she has not only carved out a life as a mountain biker but she’s a fully-fledged adventurer who’s constantly spending time in the outdoors. Having ridden bikes from a young age, Elmarie picked up mountain biking and fell in love with it right away.

“I have a real outdoors personality and that puts me face to face with overcoming challenges as an amputee in sport. I love outdoor and adventure sports and I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface with mountain biking,” she states.

There are endless challenges when you’re out on the trail, hurtling down the mountainside over rocks and roots, and for Elmarie, navigating the trails is trickier than for others because of her prosthetic. Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all solution for mountain biking prosthetics, so Elmarie is constantly working out issues with it.

“It’s always evolving and I think about it a lot. It takes time and patience to bring those new ideas to life,” she recounts.

Mountain biking isn’t the easiest sport to take up. It needs a good level of fitness, plenty of bravery, and a good chunk of technical ability too. There are lots of challenges involved and Elmarie knows this all too well.

She recalls, “At the beginning, I was a little beat up, physically and mentally. It was difficult to enjoy what I was doing and I wondered why I bothered at all. I wasn’t willing to give it up though; I just needed to be patient and keep trying. There was a lot of effort involved to get me into mountain biking so I didn’t want to tap out before I felt the joy of it. At least then you can decide whether the struggle is worth it.”

Spurred on by her younger self, Elemarie has big plans for the next few years, including climbing and kayaking, once she gets the adaptive equipment and fine-tunes her prosthetic. Further down the road, she has her sights set on walking the Te Araroa, a 3,000km trail from the top of New Zealand to the bottom.

“I just want to keep going on adventures, combining all these sports forever and be surrounded by the mountains. Choose your struggle wisely and then stick with it until you reap the rewards,” she states.

Charul Singh, cyclist

Growing up on the busy streets of Delhi in India, Charul Singh (33) rarely cycled, but that all changed when she moved to Ireland and was blown away by the cycling culture here. Hopping on her bike, Charul explored all around Dublin to experience nature and fill her lungs with fresh air.

Out and about on her bike, she noticed a real lack of diversity on the road and decided to do something about it. That led to the creation of the Cycling Women of Colour Ireland group on social media and has encouraged lots of people from minorities out on their bikes. The group started small and was able to give women the opportunity to build their confidence and fitness in a supportive environment.

Charul is motivated by the great people in her life who encourage her every day to be the best she can be. “I want to prove at every stage that women are strong and can do anything they put their heart, mind and energy into,” she states.

As her cycling becomes more demanding, Charul is adjusting to balancing it all. She has started to race on top of running her Cycling Women of Colour Ireland and a successful career in the tech industry.

“I need to make sure that I manage my time very well and that I’m not lagging behind in any of my key interests. I plan my week ahead and with the priority tasks for that week and evaluate my progress quarterly in the life book that I keep for every year,” she recounts.

Looking forward to next year, Charul has a busy schedule ahead of her with even more race commitments, spreading her fitness across more sports, and ultimately cycling the length and breadth of Ireland.

“I believe that emotional, physical, mental, and social wellbeing are so important for a fulfilled life. I strive to strike balance in all these aspects of my life,” she states. 

Nikita Conlon, hiker

The outdoors provides so much for so many people, but for Nikita Conlon (36) the outdoors gave her the opportunity of a fresh start. Having battled alcohol addiction, the Tipperary native ventured out into the mountains to try and overcome her addiction so she could provide a better life for her two daughters Ella and Ashleigh.

Nikita is constantly inspired by her children, she says, “My youngest has ADHD and was recently diagnosed with Level 1 autism and dyslexia. She’s so caring and is such a great girl, exactly like her bigger sister.” It’s this inspiration and motivation that’s seen Nikita fully embrace hiking and encouraging others to get outside too. Combining hiking with chats about mental health has become popular in recent years and Nikita fully believes that the message ‘It’s OK to not be OK’ is a very important one.

With a busy home life, it can sometimes be tricky to get out on long hikes but Nikita manages to make it work. “I truly believe if you want something bad enough in life, you will find the time, and because mental health is so important to me, I manage to make it work,” she says. Nikita also wants her kids to prioritise their health and for them to put their mental wellbeing ahead of everything else.

The road to recovery has been a tricky one for Nikita, but she’s proudly sober for more than 18 months and has pushed on to back up her love for fitness with a diploma in personal training as well as strength and conditioning. “The most challenging part for me was staying sober,” she recounts. 

Seeing hiking as a form of therapy, Nikita calls the mountains her happy place and they’re a stark contrast to her previous life where her addiction had her in an incredibly dark place. “I silently battled addiction until I knew I couldn’t do it any longer. It was taking over every part of my life,” she recalls. Thankfully, Nikita’s life is in a much healthier place now.

Not one to sit around, she has big plans for the next two years as she takes on Kilimanjaro in 2023 and is heading for Everest Base Camp in 2024. “I want to climb Kilimanjaro for one reason. I know it’ll push me into an uncomfortable place that I know I’ll grow from,” she says. And it’s that level of determination and perseverance that has led to Nikita’s success.

“Who knows what the future holds? The world is your oyster and you can do anything you set your mind to,” she says.

Paul Clarke, LugMo organiser

Sometimes in life a major event can change the course of everything and when Paul Clarke’s (42) step-father in-law Tommy Stewart passed away from cancer, he had a deep urge to do something.

“After visiting Tommy in the hospital and seeing this larger-than-life man fading away, I knew I had to do something to raise awareness of men’s health. But I wanted it to be a challenge just like the challenge Tommy and many more face daily battling cancer,”recounts Paul. From this, the LugMo Challenge was born.

The 26km long winter hike ventures up Lugnaquilla, the highest peak in Leinster. The first challenge took place 11 years ago during Movember when Paul rounded up 18 men for the climb. Fast forward to the most recent ascent where the 120 places sold out in seconds. As interest in LugMo grows, so do Paul’s ambitions. He marked the 10 year anniversary in 2021 by climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and 2022 saw him turn his focus to women’s health when he created LugMna. This was a roaring success and raised €43,000 for Women’s Aid – the most he’s ever raised.

Like most entrants in these awards, there have been some tough times when giving up seemed like the best thing to do.

“I work 9-5 in a busy hospital, then come home in the evenings to respond to emails, plan warm-up hikes, post on social media, contact sponsors, design merchandise and try to come up with new fundraising ideas. I’m not gonna lie; it can be hard,” says Paul. But all that effort hasn’t deterred him and meeting people during the challenge makes it all worthwhile.

Paul is motivated by seeing people succeed. Watching the process unfurl of someone doubting if they can complete the hike right through to reaching the peak is reward enough for him.

“If you can put one foot in front of the other, then you’re able for it,” he says. 

The personal connections made on each challenge mean Paul sees the challenge continuing for the foreseeable future. “I remember approaching the summit of Lugnaquilla on a freezing cold and wind-driven rainy day. One of my team approached me and said there were two girls crying behind the summit. I asked them if they were OK and one of them threw her arms around me and thanked me for today. I said, ‘No, thank you for getting to the summit of Lug and raising funds for men’s health.’ She then reached into her pocket and pulled out a picture of her husband who had passed away from cancer,” he recounts

Paul has an exciting idea for 2023 that he’s keeping under wraps for now. It involves teams and mountain leaders and it has never been done before. Watch this space.

Aiden Sheridan, swimmer

Driven by a promise he made to his dying brother, Aiden Sheridan (43) became the first person to ever swim the length of the River Shannon over consecutive days. Aiden, who hails from Ballinasloe, Co Galway, is no stranger to challenges having run 52 marathons in 52 weeks to raise funds for his sister Jennifer who had previously been diagnosed with cancer. She made a full recovery, but unfortunately his brother Mark wasn’t as lucky. Mark was admitted to hospital on a Monday, diagnosed with cancer on Friday and died the following Monday.

Aiden recounts, “Mark was always in good spirits though. He never let it bother him and we were laughing together even during our final conversation where I promised him that I would do something even bigger for him than the 52 marathons I ran in 52 weeks. I never realised that would be my last conversation with him.”

Aiden kept his promise and when he found out online that people had swam River Shannon before, but never on consecutive days, he knew he’d found his challenge.

“Believe it or not, I never really swam before I trained for the Shannon swim. This was a completely new challenge and I felt it was the perfect way to honour the promise I made to my brother,” he states.

Despite taking on a swimming challenge with very little swimming experience, it was Aiden’s approach of breaking things down into manageable chunks that saw him through.

“I was just doing a few short swims every day for 15 days. I focused on each 6km swim at a time, and then I’d be able to put my feet up and have a sandwich on the shore before moving on to the next swim,” he recalls.

With help from his five sisters and two nieces, Aiden ate well every night and had constant support throughout. But he credits his wife Elaine with being the person that made it all happen, “This would never have been possible without all the amazing support I received. Elaine minded our kids every time I was out on the water training,” he says.

As Aiden approached the end point of Curraghgour Boat Club, a crowd had gathered, cheering him on and waving flags. With his name in the record books, 245km swum, and his promi-e kept to his brother, Aiden had also raised €51,000 for the Irish Cancer Society and East Galway & Midlands Cancer Support.

Trisha Lewis, influencer and adventure racer

Cork woman Trisha Lewis (34) is a wearer of many hats. She’s a chef, author, and influencer, but has added another string to her bow by becoming an inspiration for so many people who are on a weight-loss journey. Feeling lost in life, Trisha realised during lockdowns that she needed a change and to change her perspective on what being kind to herself meant. “I was lost, doing regular things every day but I needed a challenge,” she says. This planted the seed of doing Quest, an adventure race in Kerry.

Trisha has been very open about her weight-loss journey and how they’re normally portrayed on social media as endless wins. But she takes an honest approach to it and it’s something that resonates with her 227,000 followers on Instagram. Not afraid to show the hard graft that’s required and the disappointments along the way, Trisha has shown people an authentic journey, complete with ups and downs. “I’m chasing health. Chasing the feeling of absolutely smashing life,” she recounts.

Showing her fans and followers that great things can be achieved by taking small steps, Trisha headed to Kerry to take part in the iconic Quest Killarney race. Entering the 27km Challenge Route, she completed the course and was so happy with it that she recommends everyone thinking of doing it to register right away.

“The mental side of things was the hardest part. The effort required to keep yourself going was a lot. But by doing it step by step, I was able to do it,” she recalls.

Trisha isn’t finished yet. Her journey continues and she’s bringing even more people along with her. Changes like making sure she gets her steps in every day and regular 5km walks laid the foundation for her to complete her first 10km run.

Jamie Crawford, runner

Life took a turn for the worse when Dubliner Jamie Crawford (42) was diagnosed with MS back in 2012 and then his wife was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, only 7 months after their child Pia was born. Before his diagnosis, Jamie was always keen to get outside for a run or heading off on ski trips. But since their run of bad luck (thankfully Georgie is now in recovery), the outdoors has become a place of healing for him.

“Spending time in nature and being outside in the hills is a non-negotiable for me. I was a CEO for 10 years and let this side of me slip but have since taken steps to lead a better lifestyle,” he recounts.

By embracing the outdoors once again, Jamie has found a competitive edge as he battles with himself and his diagnosis to achieve great things. In 2022 alone, he ran Eco Trail and Run the Line. “When you take on these kinds of challenges, it’s as much mental as it is physical. It’s all about proving to myself I can still compete despite having MS and that I can do something that the doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to do,” he states.

This drive and inner desire to stay well has seen Jamie gain a strong following of fans who are inspired by what he does.

Being a husband and father keeps most people busy, but adding MS into the situation makes it all more complicated.

“When you have MS you can have off days. Fatigue can get you out of nowhere, so that can hinder you,” states Jamie. But he has never thought about giving up and wants to continue his mission of showing other people with MS that they can live full and active lives. “The more physically well fit I am, the better my long-term prognosis,” he says.

Clearly, Jamie isn’t afraid of a challenge or two and it’s a case of onward and upwards for him in 2023 as he aims to take on an ultra marathon. “I have the tools to get me through any physical challenge because of what I have been through,” he says.

Guy O’Leary, swimmer

A stage 4 cancer diagnosis in 2014 turned 39-year-old Guy O’Leary’s life upside down. It left him sitting in hospital wards facing brutal rounds of chemotherapy. While waiting for his treatment to finish, and knowing how slim his chances were of making a full recovery, Guy, who hails from Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, promised himself that he’d do something special if he ever recovered.

Thankfully with the help of incredible doctors and nurses, Guy’s cancer was successfully removed and six months later he was in the water running the first ‘Mile a Day in May’ event. During his treatment and recovery, Guy had plenty of time to dream about the future and swimming was always something that he was drawn back to. Not wanting to simply go out and swim by himself, he saw it as an opportunity to bring people along with him so that they could challenge themselves and also raise vital money for cancer research and treatments.

“A mile doesn’t sound like that much, but when you’re swimming it rather than walking or running it, it becomes a serious distance. Then you go and do that every day for 31 days,” he recounts.

What started with 45 people joining him for the inaugural event has now now grown and attracted 200 people in 2022. Guy states, “Logistically it can get a bit difficult. With that many people in the water, you also need a team on the land to make sure that everyone is doing OK. We run the swims in the evening after work so people are able to take part, which again is another part of the logistical side of things.” 

But, he adds, “It’s great to be out there with so many different types of swimmers. Our quickest mile has taken just under half an hour and our longest has been quite close to two hours. That’s long enough to be in the Irish Sea in May. But we always go at a pace that people are OK with; it’s a group effort.” Despite the logistical challenges, Guy is planning for the event to get even bigger in the future. “We’ve raised a lot of money and it’s making a difference. We’ve been able to fund researchers and contribute money to places that are really helping people.”

Dave Brady, marathon runner

For many of us, running a marathon may be the crowning achievement of our time spent in the outdoors, but grandfather of five Dave Brady (72), who hails from Kildare but now lives in Dublin, has taken it beyond what most of us can fathom. In 2022, this long-time member of Raheny Shamrock Athletic Club and President of the Marathon Club of Ireland ran his 1,010th marathon.  And no, that is not a typo! If you add up the total distance of these marathons, that’s the equivalent of running around the world and then some. Not bad for a person who only switched to running when he was 36 years old.

Like many on this list, he was inspired to do his first run – a 10km race – to raise funds for the victims of the famine in Ethiopia. Since then Dave became hooked and has run marathons all over the world, from New York to Barcelona, and everywhere in between. But it was back on home turn in Longford that he crossed the finishing line for the 1,000th time. If you run 1,000 races, it’s likely you’ll have some accolades to your name. For Dave, they include running 12 marathons in 12 days and regularly clocking up 100 marathons in a single year. Running is simply a part of Dave’s everyday life, a part of the fibre of his being. So it’s not really surprising for Dave’s work colleagues (yes he’s still working full time as a construction foreman!) to hear that he has run a marathon before clocking in to Dublin’s building sites.

Lockdowns threw Dave’s plans out the window and he wasn’t able to travel to international events and ultimately his form and fitness began to drop. He never tested positive for Covid-19 but believes he suffered from a sort of long Covid as he started to have some difficulties breathing on his runs for the very first time. Thankfully though, Dave has been able to keep going and is planning even more marathons.

June Curtin, swimmer

Suicide has taken its toll on so many people in Ireland and for June Curtin, her life changed forever when she lost her husband to suicide in 2013. This left her home alone in County Clare with her two children who were five and nine at the time. Unsurprisingly, this was incredibly difficult to bear and her own mental health started to worsen as every drop of energy she had went into caring for her children.

A chat with her sister-in-law was the turning point for June and she realised that she had to do something to take care of herself. Searching for inspiration can be hard work and often comes into our lives by chance. June had tried walking, yoga and going to the gym, but none of them hit the mark for her. Then one day, as she glanced out her window towards Spanish Point, she saw swimmers bobbing up and down in the sea. The next day she was in the water with them

The escapism, dealing with the fear of swimming and overcoming it, and the post-swim glow were exactly what June needed. Since then, she has set up a swimming group called Snámhaí Sásta and those in the group and others head out each morning for a dip in the sea. The group helps people get outside, meet others, and get through difficult times in their lives, while also feeling part of a community. The group also raises funds and in December 2022, June swam 63 times in 21 days to raise money for the Mid West Simon Community, raising over €100,000.

New Wave Adventure Therapy, mental health advocates

Run by Phillip and Jasmin Stallard, the mission of New Wave Adventure Therapy is to bring people into the outdoors and help them there with their mental health issues. Trained to masters level in multiple disciplines, the duo are able to do real work while being active in Kerry’s beautiful landscapes. This is a pioneering treatment that the Stallards are trailblazing, and they’ve achieved brilliant results to date.

The pair has developed six methods, each designed to help people be comfortable in their surroundings and allowing them to open up to the benefits of therapy. Wild Sky is an intensive adventure therapy programme that takes people into natural blue or green landscapes for four-hour sessions. Wild Water takes small groups out onto the water, Wild Earth focuses on therapeutic workshops, and Walk Spaces gives people a chance to simply walk and talk while outdoors.

A lot of Phillip and Jasmin’s work is with younger people with mental health issues. Their work gives people a safe space where positive relationships can be built with themselves and the outdoors. Making each session bespoke to every client, New Wave Therapy has been able to make a difference in people’s lives.

Charlie Bird, hiker

Dubliner Charlie Bird (73) needs no introduction. For years he lit up our screens and broke important news on RTÉ and most recently has been an inspiration to so many for how he has dealt with his Motor neurone disease diagnosis. This inspiration reached a peak in 2022 when he climbed the iconic Croagh Patrick in Mayo.

Tens of thousands of people joined Charlie as he set off on the famous pilgrimage route to the top, and even though his health had worsened in the weeks before, he achieved his goal and raised over €1.5 million for Pieta House and the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Charlie is no stranger to Croagh Park. His wife Claire grew up nearby and has climbed the mountain numerous times. With his walking stick and backpack, there were emotional scenes at the top as Charlie reached St. Patrick’s Chapel and lit candles inside for people suffering from terminal illnesses, including Vicky Phelan whom he became quite close to.

Charlie’s hike shows that even when the odds are stacked against you, you can still achieve the unachievable. His message was heard across the world with Climb with Charlie events taking place globally, from the United States to South Africa, and Australia. The money raised will undoubtedly make life-changing differences to so many people and his legacy will live on for many, many years to come.

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By Matthew McConnell

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