CURRENTLY based in Scotland, local man Andy Moloney is preparing to cycle from his new home back to Shannon, while raising awareness of autism and funds for groups that help with the condition.
“I’m leaving Edinburgh on September 3 and then I have two days cycling in Scotland. Then I get on the ferry to Belfast and then cycle from Belfast to Shannon and that’s three days,” he says. In all, the journey is justunder 850 kilometres.
Andy’s seven-year-old son Ellis has been diagnosed with autism, leading Andy to take on the challenge. “I wanted Scotland to benefit because I’m over here but I know seven families in the last 10 or 11 years who have had children with autism. As much as I wanted to do something over here, I wanted to do something in Ireland and Shannon too. I figured the best way to do it was to go from here to Shannon.”
Last Saturday Wolfe Tones hosted a five-a-side soccer tournament linked to the cycle, which raised some €1,700, with 34 teams taking part. “It was incredible, even the turnout of people to watch it was great,” he says.
Andy certainly wasn’t a very enthusiastic cyclist before he took on this challenge. “Before eight weeks ago I hadn’t cycled since I was 12 or 13 and I’m 32 now. I’m slowly but surely getting into the big distances, cardio never was my thing.”
He wasn’t even very fit. “Not at all! My first day going cycling I weighed 17 stones 6lbs, now I’m down to 16 stone 4lbs. I’m six foot. Slowly but surely it’s coming off me! I should lose another stone by the time the cycle comes around but I was in no shape at all. That’s why people are getting behind it so much, I was never associated with cardio! I played hurling with Wolfe Tones before I moved over here but fitness was never my strong point.”
This is certainly a very extreme task for someone coming from that starting point, but Andy says it is exactly what he needs.
“I knew I needed a challenge, I knew I needed something I wouldn’t be great at. Running somewhere never appealed to me or a marathon or anything like that, because they’re done the whole time. After speaking to lots of people, I don’t think anyone has done what I’m doing.”
He is 10 years in Scotland this month and is running an Irishbar. Taking on the cycle might seem very impulsive and Andy admits that it is in keeping with his personality, something that becomes more apparent when he reflects on how he arrived in Scotland. “It was a spur of the moment thing, I broke up with my girlfriend in Shannon and I moved over here the next day. I wanted to get out and I wanted a change.”
Andy’s employer has sponsored the bike he will make the trip on, while local company Complete Attics have also got behind him. Even some of Scotland’s biggest football clubs have offered their support. “On Wednesday, Scott Brown
(Celtic midfielder) gave me his jersey from the Champions League game the week before. Kevin Thomson from Rangers gave me a jersey to raffle and Darren McGregor from Hibs gave me his jersey to auction as well. My girlfriend plays for Hearts of Midlothian and they’ve got behind it too. Celtic are going to bring Ellis onto the pitch for one of the games as a mascot this season too.”
With several weeks left to go until he first puts his foot on the pedal for the journey, some €10,000 has already been raised and Andy says he is “really looking forward to it”.
“The more support I’m getting and the more messages I get, the more I’m looking forward to it. But I’m under no illusions that it’s going to be absolutely gruelling from day one.”
Andy believes it is very important that people get more of an understanding of autism, something he says he didn’t have himself a few years back.
“There’s not much awareness. Obviously children with autism act a little bit differently and you always get people staring, so it’s more about the awareness side of things, I want people to understand. Even when I was growing up I didn’t have a clue about autism, even up until Ellis was diagnosed I didn’t know what autism was. It just shows that it’s not that well known.”
He says there can be a very wide diversity among people with autism. “Shannon Airport put in a sensory unit, which is very good for autism, but it doesn’t appeal to my fella at all. It’s such a wide, wide spectrum,” he noted.
When he gets off the bike at Wolfe Tones in September, Ellis will be on hand to greet him. “It’ll take two days before I get to Cairnryan and then he’ll come on the ferry with me to Ireland. Stage three is Belfast to Drogheda, so he’ll come with my mate Nickey in the car to Drogheda and my parents will come up from Shannon and bring him down the road. He’ll be there when I arrive at Wolfe Tones on the Saturday.”