IRELAND’S ULTRA-SUCCESSFUL Paralympics team, adventurer Mark Pollock and extraordinary teenager Joanne O’Riordan were among those honoured at last night’s Rehab People of the Year Awards.
A posthumous award was also given to Garda Ciarán Jones, who lost his life tragically while trying to protect others in the floods of 2011. The 24-year-old was killed on 24 October when he and his sister’s boyfriend came across a flooded Ballysmutten Bridge, just off the Sally Gap Road in Manor Kilbride, Wicklow. He was trying to alert a vehicle at the opposite side of the bridge about the hazard when he was engulfed by the intense force of the water and swept away. The award was presented to his parents, Brenda and John Jones, by Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh who noted their son’s bravery, heroism and selflessness.
The 38th annual awards, presented at Citywest Hotel last night, are organised to publicly honour those individuals and organisations who have made outstanding contributions to life in Ireland. Described by organisers as Ireland’s “answer to an honours system,” the winners are nominated by members of the public and finalised by a panel of judges.
Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor was named Sports Person of the Year and Taoiseach Enda Kenny presented her with the award, praising her for her many achievements, not least of all her win over Russia’s Sofya Ochigava in the Olympic women’s lightweight boxing final last month.
Adventurer Mark Pollock was presented with an award for his determination in overcoming significant physical adversity to constantly push the boundaries as an explorer and adventure racer. At 22 and while still attending university, Mark lost his sight. Despite the challenges he faced, over the next 10 years he took part in numerous adventure races, including the Everest Marathon and the Round Ireland yacht race. He was also the first blind man to race to the South Pole. However, the adventures were put on hold in 2010 after an accident left him paralysed from the waist down. Since then, he has had to adjust to life in a wheelchair. He is currently exploring the frontiers of recovery through aggressive physical therapy and the use of robotic technology – all with a upbeat and positive spirit.
Cork teenager Joanne O’Riordan made headlines across the globe this year after challenging the technology industry to build her a robot. Born with a rare condition known as Total Amelia, the 16-year-old has no arms or legs. Her lack of limbs has not held her back though. Her motto – No Limbs, No Limits – has become the title for her film-maker brother’s documentary about her life, which has recently received funding from the Rehab Group.
As one of just seven people in the world to suffer with Total Amelia, Joanne addressed the International Telecommunication Union’s conference ‘Girls in Technology’, receiving a standing ovation and stealing the show with her inspirational keynote speech.
All my young life I’ve struggled and overcome barriers. I’ve surprised doctors, strangers, friends and even my own family by what I have achieved….There is no such thing as ‘normal’ in my vocabulary. When I started school I, like all the other children, used my hand to write. I did this by putting my pen in between my shoulder and chin and as you can imagine this was an enormous challenge for me but I overcame the obstacle. I have always been breaking down barriers and overcoming obstacles. I do not look at the word Impossible and see it as Impossible. I look at that word and my life and say I’m Possible!
Joanne was named the Rehab Young Person of the Year for 2012 and the award was presented to her by musician Bressie.
Michael McKillop, one of the stars of the London Paralympics this year, received the Irish Paralympic Team’s award last night. Praised for its record 16-medal haul, the team was noted for its inspiring sporting achievements. McKillop won two gold medals for the 800m and 1,500m at the Games earlier this month.
Another poignant moment came as the recipients of the Community Group of the Year Award were announced. Fr Pierce Cormac and Bill Deasy accepted the honour on behalf of Union Hall in Cork which was recognised for its outstanding community spirit and unshakeable resolve in efforts to find five fishermen lost at sea in January. Skipper Michael Hayes (53), Dublin youngster Kevin Kershaw (21) and Egyptian natives Wael Mohamed (35), Attaia Shaban (26) and Saied Ali Eldin (22) perished when their trawler, the Tit Bonhomme, sunk off the Cork coast at the beginning of the year. All five of their bodies were recovered in a long and extensive search. With different communities mourning the loss of loved ones, Union Hall was said to have brought everyone together through the four-week search, providing “unstinting physical and emotional support to those affected by the tragedy”.
Other winners included Maeve Flaherty who took home the Neighbour of the Year award after her neighbour of 27 years nominated her for having “fantastic neighbourly spirit, a willingness to turn her home into a place of refuge for people in difficulty and unwavering support as a friend”; Today FM’s Gill waters who pioneered the popular Shave or Dye campaign in aid of the Irish Cancer Society; Dr Tony Scott who co-founded the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition; and Florence Harrison and Caitriona Twomey of Cork Penny Dinners which provides food and warmth to those in need. The city’s oldest charity, it provides 1,000 midday meals to people each week.
Former RTÉ broadcaster Colm Murray’s daughter accepted an award on behalf of her father for his courageous response to a diagnosis of motor neurone disease and his inspirational efforts in speaking out about the condition and the need for a cure.