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“No matter what life throws at you, you can get on with it”

“No matter what life throws at you, you can get on with it”

The Gold Spinners - Greg Doherty, Oisin Reid, Deirdre Dillion and Luke Keaney

The Gold Spinners were one of the four-person teams that completed the gruelling Donegal Ultra 555 in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The Donegal Bay Cycling Club team - made up of Deirdre Dillion, her son Luke Keaney, Greg Doherty and Oisin Reid - rolled back into Letterkenny after a combined 555k in the saddle in a time of 19 hours and 45 minutes. Their aim is to raise awareness of mental health and for the Counselling Service provided by the Donegal Town Family Resource Centre.

Lots of people have lots of reasons for competing in such an event and for Deirdre and Luke, from Drumenney, Old Laghey Road, it showed that you can overcome whatever complexities life can throw at you.

Deirdre was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2019, three months after taking part in the Dublin City marathon and went through two operations and radiotherapy. Now, the 58-year-old teacher at Scoil Aodh Rua agus Nuala is, in her own words: “doing what I did before. It was just a blip on the road.” She’s getting on with life.

Luke is a former county footballer and part of Donegal’s panel that won the 2014 Ulster SFC title and reached the All-Ireland final before having to retire from football at just 24 years of age.

Overtraining and balancing college, club and county duties at the same time left Keaney’s hips in a state of degeneration so bad they resembled a 70-year-old’s and he had to undertake five operations and now, not even 30, his involvement in football is as trainer of the local Four Masters club.

He and Rosie Temple represented Donegal Bay Rowing Club, and Ireland in Castagneto, Italy,  for the European Rowing Coastal Challenge 2020. He, like his mother, is getting on with life.

Luke bumped into Sean McFadden, one of the event organiser of the 555 in Dubai last year and had his arm twisted, telling his mother of the plan: to take part in this year’s event.

“I did a bit of cycling here but more running,” Deirdre, a member of Tir Chonaill AC and native of Ahascragh, Co Galway, explains. “Luke wasn’t that experienced but he told me of this ‘great new challenge’.”

“One day when we were cycling out by Mountcharles we bumped into Greg and got talking so he decided to join, having done the support crew for the event before. Then, another son, David, who works at the Weighbridge coffee van in Donegal Town, got talking to Oisin who popped in. It turned out to be an expensive coffee for poor Oisin!”

Greg took over the responsibility of getting the preparation right for the team - “masterminding things” as Deirdre explained - and last Friday she was the one who left the ramp outside the Mount Errigal Hotel at 8:15am.

“We did it in 20k turns and had to plan around the four main climbs of the course, Mamore, Horn Head, Knockalla and Glengesh Pass,” she says. “Greg did three and Oisin the other, while Luke did a great climb in Malin as well. Greg had us very well prepared and Oisin, who is only 20, is an excellent cyclist.

“At no stage did I feel it was un-doable and looking back even now it was a great experience. I loved cycling through the night. You could smell the honeysuckles. I’ve ran five marathons but at no stage last weekend did I feel the same strain. 

“Luke showed you can reinvent yourself and the team camaraderie was there, with David among the support crew, who we have to thank for taking the time off work to help us every inch of the way. My other children - Jack who plays soccer for UCD and Kate, who was a bridesmaid at a wedding, couldn’t be there on the day but their support was incredible.

“It shows that no matter what life throws at you, you can get on with it.”

A GoFundMe page was set up for the Gold Spinners, with over €3,000 raised already for Counselling Service provided by the Donegal Town Family Resource Centre. You can donate here

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