Aer we come...
Among the 200 runners at the Aer Arann half-marathon will be Dr Susan Steele, writes Andrea Smith
Nobody around Clonakilty in Cork bats an eyelid when they see Dr Susan Steele pounding the pavement to and from work, or running in circles around fields and sand dunes, keeping an eye on her children as they play games in the middle. Once, she even cycled to Dingle in Kerry for a work meeting, which she admits was a bit extreme.
As she says herself, a working mum has to be clever and creative when it comes to fitting training into her busy day, and with five children from a previous relationship, Emma, Lizzie, Martin, Molly and Nicholas, who are aged between six and 15, plus her partner John Murray's two boys, Eoghan (15) and Carl (10), life is pretty hectic.
Then there is also the small matter of being the chair of the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority to consider, not that any of this fazes Susan (39) in the slightest.
One of her main passions in life is raising money for Temple Street Children's University Hospital, and last year, she did this through completing six marathons, an ironman, triathlons and several half-marathons, including her favourite one of all, the Aer Arann Half-Marathon on the Aran Islands.
Susan's involvement with Temple Street began 13 years ago, when her daughter Lizzie was born eight weeks prematurely, with her bowels encased in a huge tumour, known as a teratoma.
At the time, she was working in the UK, and had only come home to visit her family in Cork when she went into labour. Baby Lizzie, who also had cerebral palsy, was transferred by ambulance to Dublin and had three operations in three days. Her mum was bowled over by the level of care.
"When you find yourself there with a sick child, your world is turned upside down, but you get such support from the minute you walk in the door of Temple Street," she says.
"My older daughter, Emma, was only 17 months old, and the hospital minded the whole family so well. I was always someone who thought that I was in control of life. I realised then that I was never in control, as we didn't know from day-to-day if Lizzie would survive or what the future would hold for her? It was very frightening, and there are no words to describe the support, professionalism and care of the Temple Street staff, and my huge gratitude to them."
Lizzie is now 13 and doing very well, having had six surgeries at the hospital over the years. It was partly because of the ongoing support the family received that made Susan decide to move back to Ireland. She recalls phoning consultant, Dr Owen Hensey, because Lizzie's legs were turning different colours, and he told her to bring her then seven-year-old daughter straight to the hospital.
"It took us seven hours to get there, and he was literally standing at the door waiting for us, even though it was 9pm and he was supposed to have finished hours earlier," she says.
Susan says that she wasn't a "skinny, fit person" and couldn't have walked any distance when her daughter was born.
As Lizzie remained in hospital for 14 weeks, and parking was at a premium around the hospital, she began to cycle in and out. She built up her fitness levels further by cycling to and from work, and when she got a puncture one day, she decided to run. She now does this every day, covering a nine-mile round trip.
When her youngest son Nicholas was five months old, Susan completed her first marathon. She also completed the 50-mile Dingle Ultra Marathon, the Killarney Hardman and regularly participates in the Clonakilty Park Run.
Susan is planning to take part in the Route 66 Motorcycle Challenge later this year, despite having never ridden a motorbike, but you get the sense that nothing that trivial would deter her. After all, she got her pilot's licence so that she could fly a small plane over to the Aran Islands for the half-marathon.
This year, she and her daughter Emma will join 200 runners, walkers and joggers on Inis Mór on April 11 and 12, to complete the 13.2-mile circuit of the island. Race entries include both day trip and weekend packages, with a fundraising target for both – and participants are rewarded with an unforgettable weekend of traditional music and fun.
Those interested in the weekend package are asked to fundraise €650, which covers return flights to the island plus accommodation and meals, while a day trip on April 12 costs €250. "I love it because the Aran Islands is a magical place," says Susan.
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