Hero Mary is on the home stretch
Celebrations planned as Mary due to arrive in Arklow on Saturday
Arklow athlete and local hero Mary Nolan Hickey is on the home stretch of her Lap of the Map fundraiser and her supporters and friends are planning a welcome home fit for a queen.
Since January 1, Mary has run almost the entire coastline of Ireland to raise funds for the RNLI and she is due to arrive back in her hometown this Saturday, April 14.
By the time she arrives back in Arklow, Mary will have completed the equivalent of 57 marathons - or over 1,500 miles - through 18 counties and raised over €30,000 for the volunteer lifeboat services in Ireland.
It is hoped that as many people as possible will line the streets of Arklow to welcome Mary home on Saturday.
On the day itself, Mary will make her way from Courtown RNLI station to Arklow, where she is due to arrive on the Main Street at 2 p.m, before then winding her way to the Arklow RNLI station, where it all started on New Year's Day.
Mary has far exceeded her own expectations as she tentatively aimed for a June date to complete the Lap of the Map challenge.
The RNLI Lap of the Map crew is calling on as many clubs and community groups as possible to join in Saturday's parade for Mary, which will march from Arklow Courthouse to the RNLI station. There will be a small presentation at the station followed by refreshments in Arklow Scout Hall.
Meanwhile, the woman herself is in County Wexford and is very excited at the prospect of returning to her beloved Arklow.
Speaking to this newspaper on Monday, during a visit to Rosslare Lifeboat Station, Mary said that she was 'in great form' and very much looking forward to getting back home again.
'I cannot believe I am on the last few days. It has been unreal and one of the most important challenges of my life. The main thing was to raise funds and create awareness for the RNLI and I am happy that I have done that,' she said.
While Mary is just days away from home, she is acutely aware that she hasn't made it back just yet and said that the same rules still apply and that she is taking the challenge as seriously as ever.
'I'm still out on the roads and the same safety rules still apply. It's okay when it's just me but when people join me, I feel responsible for them and I explain the way I want them to run each morning. It's so important to me that everyone is safe and that everyone arrives back home safe and well,' she said.
As for her own condition, Mary is feeling as fit as ever and although a pesky long-standing hamstring injury had reared its head for up to a month of her Lap of the Map, it has now calmed down and she is making great pace.
'I am still running 90 per cent of the time and only walking the very steep hills. I am delighted about that as I expected to be walking more by this stage,' she said.
Meeting so many different people from across the country has been a highlight of her challenge so far.
'The people have been magnificent. Once I finish running each day, there are always lovely people to sit down and have a cup of tea with and they are all so supportive and encouraging. Only this (Monday) morning, I was running past a school and all the kids came out to wave and give me high-fives. It is just wonderful.'
Mary is today (Wednesday) enjoying a rest day in Wexford town and will head for Kilmuckridge tomorrow before continuing on to Courtown - her final stop before home - on Friday.
Mary's target of €20,000 has been annihilated and her online fundraising efforts have passed €33,000. However, her team are still encouraging anyone who can to donate to her fund and help life-saving RNLI crews in their work. This can be done at https://give.everydayhero.com/ie/rnli-lap-of-the-map