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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, Craghoppers, Leave 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 promise kept to his brother, Aiden had also raised €51,000 for the Irish Cancer Society and East Galway & Midlands Cancer Support.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Matthew McConnell
June Curtin ,she is an exceptional woman, after losing her husband, to heal her grief went swimming every day. June rise found for very good causes, and light candles for friends. Well done Jun.
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