Tralee native Ann Eager showed that the motivation that comes with celebrating a loved one lost and great causes is all-powerful as she completed an amazing 500km cycle all the way from Derry Beag in Donegal to Derrymore beach here in Kerry in just over five days.
aving set off on Monday morning, Ann, with her three-person support crew of Breda Quirke, Sarah Hensman and Martin Quirke by her side throughout, successfully crossed the finish line at Derrymore on Saturday afternoon, much to the delight of the huge crowd of family, friends and well wishers who had gathered there to celebrate her amazing achievement.
It was a fitting and well-deserved finish for Ann and her team on what was, at times, an incredibly difficult and emotional cycle – although she was keen to stress that, in spite of these rough moments, the good always outweighed the bad.
“I’m feeling all right, actually. I’m a bit stiff, sore and tired obviously, and I have a bit of a sore knee that’s swollen up a small bit but, overall, I’m good as can be!” said Ann.
Ann added that the reality of how hard the cycle would be dawned straight away in Donegal on the first day.
“Donegal was extremely tough because we had some horrible weather. There was wind and torrential rain. I think I was about 20 minutes [in] and I was going up what was the third hill and, without warning, the heavens opened. We were out in the middle of nowhere, and it got so bad that I had to get off the bike and just stand behind the camper because I couldn’t see where I was going. It was a bit of a wake up call all right!” she continued.
“The fourth day, which was Thursday, was the day that I struggled the most from the minute I woke up. I just thought to myself ‘I can’t complete this’. I had hit the wall. I got up on the bike, and I had something like 80km to do that day, and I just thought ‘oh dear God’. The first 20km, they were as slow as anything. It was just pure tiredness. It came down to literally taking it kilometre by kilometre and breaking it up into little sections, mentally,” said Ann.
“The hills, too. It wasn’t just the up and downs, there were these long drags where you’re just going up and up and up.
“There was one particular hill in Mayo where I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but I kept going and going. I rounded the corner and thought I was over the worst of it, only to see another hill right in front of me. That was heart breaking,” she said with a laugh.
If there was one upside to these tough moments, though, it was to be found in the support crew who kept Ann going through it all.
“When I really struggled, the two girls took it in turns to cycle with me and it was a huge help,” she said.
“They were talking to me and keeping me distracted. They were just amazing, I couldn’t have asked for better support. I don’t have the words to describe them, they were just unbelievable. There were tears and laughing and just some great camaraderie.”
It wasn’t all tough, though, and Ann said there were some lovely, heart-warming moments along the journey, when the goodness of humanity was on show.
“There were so many good moments. I think I was gone only about 10k in Donegal on the first day, and we came into a garage during the heavy rain and we stopped there. I continued on then about another two kilometres, and there was a van pulled in, and there was a woman there applauding us on. She had seen us in the garage. It was amazing. Another time, we were stopped having lunch in the camper van and there was a knock on the door… there was a man and his son there, and they made a donation there and then,” said Ann.
“We were coming into Tuam then, and a man who had seen us cycling stopped us and said that anyone who would get up on a bike in these conditions for charity deserved a donation. It was really just unbelievable, the support,” she added.
Finally, as she made her way into Kerry on the final stretch of the journey, Ann said that she was blown away by the support of people as she made her way towards Derrymore – a journey that also included a stop at Pauline’s grave.
“The welcome I got into Kerry was unreal. There were people on Blennerville bridge cheering with homemade posters and everything. Cyclists then, a few of them cycled out from Blennerville with me, and there were people with flags and they were waving and cheering.
“Derryquay school – where Pauline lived near and her kids went to school – had balloons out and a picture of Pauline with a heart. That was a very emotional moment for me.”
For Ann, the memory of Pauline was with her from the very start of the cycle, and on the last day, Ann said that Pauline even managed to pull a few strings and ensure the sun was shining for the home stretch.
“Pauline was with me all the way, from the very start. On the first day, amongst the doom and gloom of the weather, there was a respite for about 30 seconds where a rainbow came in over the harbour in Derry Beag and I looked at it and I knew: Pauline was with me.”
Anyone looking to donate to Ann’s fundraiser can do so here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/charity-cycle-for-beaumont-icu-uhk-cardiac-rehab?member=13408145&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_source=customer