A record breaking achievement
Seven marathons. Seven continents. Seven days. Sinéad Kane took on the World Marathon Challenge and excelled
“I think there’s a lot of people in society who are able to see, but they lack vision.” is is how Cork woman Sinéad Kane describes the people she has met throughout her life who, “can fully see, but don’t have the vision to follow through on their goals.”
Setting and completing personal challenges is something the solicitor knows all about and on January 29 this year Sinéad made history when she became the first visually- impaired athlete to complete the World Marathon Challenge, finishing her final race in just under five hours in Sydney, Australia. Placing sixth female in the overall category, for Sinéad taking part in the marathon was as much about testing her fitness as it was about achieving her goals.
“It wasn’t only a running experience, it was a character building experience. I see myself as an adventurer and an explorer, so for me it was very special getting to Antarctica because that’s the only continent in the world where nobody has been killed by fighting. There’s a real sense of peace and tranquillity there.”
Like a lot of things in life Sinéad’s introduction to running happened by chance almost five years ago when she decided to raise money for a charity very close to her heart. “I didn’t take up sports until I was 30 and I’m now 34. Back in June 2012 I was asked to do a 10K for Child Vision, the National Education Centre for Blind Children. I didn’t even have a clue what it was, but I automatically said yes because it was for blind children and I wanted to support. at’s how I got into running. My goal was to run the 10K in under an hour and also to raise €2,000, so when I achieved that it built my confidence and I continued running.”
From a young age Sinéad has been determined to demonstrate her ability to those who have doubted her, using every opportunity that has come her way to do so. “When I was 17-years-old the careers advisor told me that there was no point in me choosing law as a career, due to the amount of reading involved and my disability with my eyes, but I choose to prove everyone wrong. It wasn’t easy and there were times when I wanted to give up.”
During this tricky time, it was a trip to London that inspired Sinéad to keep going, not to abandon her dream and all that she had worked so hard for. “I met a judge who was totally blind and I then saw him as a role model. When I came back to Ireland I was full of confidence and I said to myself, ‘If he can do it, so can I.’ I got my law degree, my masters in law and I qualified as a solicitor in 2009. I think people need to have role models in their life. Mine are people within reach, who are two or three steps above me and then when I get to their level, my role model changes.”
Suffering from a number of eye conditions - including Aniridia, Nystagmus and Glaucoma – results in lots of everyday challenges for Sinéad, that most of us are completely unaware of.
“Normally people take in light through the pupil, but I take in light through the whole eye. So a very cloudy day with a white sky is more harsh for me than the sun. As well as that I don’t have a perception of depth, which means that something might look flat to me when actually it’s not flat at all. I don’t have a guide dog but I do use a white cane and it’s important to use it for figuring out the depth of steps and things like that.”
It is because of this that Sinéad requires a guide runner to help her train, although these can be difficult to find, which is something she has experienced along the way. “Throughout 2013 I couldn’t find a guide runner so I was out of running that year. Then in July 2014 I decided to do the Dublin Marathon so I put the message out on radio and the newspaper and John O’Regan, a guide runner from Dublin came forward.”
After completing the Dublin Marathon John could see that Sinéad was capable of running longer distances and it was then that he suggested she take part in a 50K. “In November 2015 I did the Volcano Marathon and afterwards I felt like that race had really challenged me mentally and physically, but I wanted to challenge myself even further. So, I asked my guide runner what could I do that would be better than the Volcano Marathon.
“He said Richard Donovan, a Galway man who is the organiser of the Volcano, also organises the World Marathon Challenge. I made the decision to do it and all of 2016 was spent with trying to get sponsorship.”
Luckily Allianz Ireland got involved and came on board as Sinéad’s sponsor, however the journey to the start line in Antarctica was not an easy one. “I got a lot of rejection, but I learned a lot of lessons. I realised that I need to have a lot of patience, passion and persistence in staying focused on the goal and you have to have endless vision.”
Citing the extreme temperature differences in the countries visited as one of the biggest trials faced, Sinéad explains that taking on an event such as this one not only requires enormous physical strength, but the mental stamina to match. “The faster you finished each marathon, the more recovery and getting ready time you had for the next one. During the challenge temperatures varied from -30°C in Antarctica to +34°C in Dubai with most locations above 20°C and I think that’s one of the reasons why it was so difficult for me.”
“But it doesn’t just come down to physical fitness; it comes down to how much sleep you’re getting, nutrition, how you handle setbacks and I’ve had a lot of setbacks. While everybody is thinking about and looking at all the glory that I’ve achieved, they don’t see the year’s work that went into writing emails for sponsorship, making phone calls and going out running in the rain when I wasn’t in the mood. I felt like giving up more times than I wanted to keep going, but that’s why you have to ask yourself your reason for doing it. Because if you don’t know the reason when you’re positive, you definitely won’t know it when you’re negative.”
There are many reasons why this marathon meant so much to Sinéad, with the happiness of her hometown and challenging stereotypes, at the top of her list. “I wanted to bring positivity to my community in Youghal in Co Cork and to bring positivity to Ireland. I wanted to change the perception of disabilities and I wanted to inspire people with or without disabilities to be better versions of themselves.”
“I wanted to be a record holder and the first visually impaired, blind person to complete it. I’m the first Irish female to run seven marathons, in seven continents, in seven days and I believe that every time we choose courage, we make those around us feel a bit braver and a bit better.”