EXCITEMENT reached fever pitch on the outskirts of Quin last week when a local wheelchair user completed her 21 kilometre cycle challenge for the Irish Wheelchair Association in Clare.
A chequered flag was lowered in triumph as Orla Platten crossed a temporary finishing line to tumultuous cheers and applause from a large crowd of family, friends, neighbours and supporters.
Donations keep rolling in to a special GoFundMe page, which had raised €12,300 for the Clare IWA earlier this week.
It is expected more donors will contribute to this fundraiser, which has captured the imagination of the public, before it closes at the end of the month.
A garda escort provided by Clare Gardaí Denis Collins and Ellis O’Keefee, which was organised by Sergeant Deirdre O’Doherty, added to the great sense of occasion.
It was particularly fitting in view of the fact that Orla won a Special Achievement Award at the Garda Youth Divisional Awards last year.
People who observed social distancing cheered Orla on for the final few hundred metres on the route in the presence of Clare County Council chairperson, Clare Colleran-Molloy and Councillor Mary Howard.
The attendance included neighbours, Pat and Claire Ryan, who came out to their front gate every day to support Orla.
In an interview with the Clare Champion, Orla recalled she didn’t know what was really going on before she reached the finish line and was both shocked and thrilled that so many people took the time to support her.
“I am delighted with the achievement of completing the 21 kilometre cycle. I am so thrilled to raise
so much money for the Clare IWA.
“I am very grateful for all the donations and the messages of support I have received in recent weeks. Cycling 21 kilometres is a huge achievement for me” she said.
Orla, who has Down Syndrome, has already triumphed over adversity with 16 major surgeries in her life and succeeded in cycling 21 kilometres before her 21st birthday on May 22, having learned to cycle six weeks ago.
Completing this cycle is regarded as a significant achievement as Orla can’t walk and has to be lifted on and off of the trike.
Orla said she enjoyed her recent appearance on Virgin Media News and her fundraiser now has a nationwide audience as a clip from the programme was viewed more than 57,000 times.
She recalled she was scared when she started cycling the first week but got better and better and was far more confident in the end.
She posted her daily progress on her Facebook page and really appreciated all the messages of support.
She said a lot of people helped to make cycling safer and more comfortable for her. Jean’s friend, Marie Brew got a high visibility vest with Orla’s name printed on it and put her in touch with Leroy Kulczynski who provided footplates to secure her feet on the pedals, which her father, Antony fitted.
Pat Ryan got his friend, Gary McDonnell to adjust the seat and raised the right foot plate as her right leg is shorter than her left leg.
This stopped her rocking from side to side on the trike while her father got a back rest for the trike.
Leroy got a trunk support and her father’s friend, Flan Keogh put a lot of work fitting this to to the trike.
Pat Ryan also got clips for the straps and her mother sewed them on, so the straps from the trunk support fit around her waist, making her feel safe while cycling.
Orla has thanked everyone who donated to her fundraiser, helped with the trike alterations, attended the final lap of her cycle and those who organised and participated in the special 21st birthday drive by on Friday.
She wants all the money that is raised will go towards services for people being supported by the IWA in Clare.
Her mother, Jean Hanrahan is blown away by the amazing support for Orla’s fundraising campaign in the midst of Covid-19 where thousand have lost their jobs or are on reduced hours.
Jean said the fundraiser has provided a great focus for Orla to concentrate on during May.
“Orla is so selfless and big hearted. She came up with the idea when she saw other people doing fundraising events on Facebook. Initially, Orla set a target of €1,000 and what she has raised has exceeded all our expectations.
“It was great to see all the messages of support and that people are so proud of her and what she has achieved. Everyone has been so supportive and generous,” she said.
Members of the Clare IWA and friends participated in a large convoy of about 50 cars to mark Orla’s 21st birthday last week. Car enthusiasts met in Malachy’s Pub, Quin and travelled to Orla’s house for the drive by.
Orla also received a birthday cake and card from the IWA to celebrate this milestone.
Catherine Earley of the Clare IWA described the sum raised by the cycle as “amazing”.
The Clare IWA is under resourced at the moment as the purchase of personal protective equipment from reputable sources has resulted in considerable additional costs.
“It is phenomenal to get more than €12,000 from one fundraiser at a time we are so cash strapped. Our official fundraising had ceased, apart from this fundraiser, which Orla came up with herself.
Nobody prompted Orla, who six weeks ago couldn’t cycle and decided to take on this challenge for us.
“This fundraiser has captured peoples’ hearts. It is amazing to see Orla’s face light up and to be prepared to do this challenge for others. Orla can’t walk and has to be lifted on and off off the trike so what she has achieved is mind-blowing.
“I find it very emotional watching Orla complete this challenge. For someone to give so much and consider others all of the time, that’s Orla, she is amazing. She is so independent and determined,” she said.
The Clare IWA has decided to bring their support services to clients in the community by purchasing their groceries and medication in addition to skype, phone calls, texts and visits.
Ms Earley believes the money raised will go towards the additional cost of providing diesel for three buses instead of one for clients due to social distancing requirements.