JUST a few short months after undergoing her third spinal surgery, 20-year-old Ennis student Derinn Finnerty has taken the crown of Miss Clare.
Derinn, who is studying Global Commerce at NUIG, was diagnosed with severe scoliosis at 16 years of age however she has been determined not to let this stop her following her dreams.
She has now been named among the 37 finalists vying for the coveted Miss Ireland 2022 title in this the competition’s 75th Jubilee year.
She tells us, “It’s just been amazing, it’s been crazy since I was crowned. Every day there is something new to do, and I’m loving it.
“I’ve had so many people wishing me well. I’m just so honoured to be able to represent the county.”
Derinn is determined to raise awareness of scoliosis, a condition which results in an abnormal curvature of the spine, and she is working with Irish charity Straight Ahead to raise funds to support children waiting on potentially life changing surgery.
With a positive attitude she feels the experience of dealing with the condition herself has made her a stronger person.
She recalls she decided to enter the competition on the day she found out she would need a third surgery.
“I was so disheartened, I thought that I was through this stage of my life. Then it came up on my phone about the competition, and I thought why not have a project that I can be working on, something I can think about that will give me some hope and encouragement to get out of bed and start learning to walk again.”
She had her interview the day before her surgery and competition organisers let her know she was successful the morning of the operation.
“I went into the theatre room smiling, thinking ‘I’m into Miss Ireland’. It gave me hope, something to look forward to.
“After the surgery I felt I could get out of bed, out of the wheelchair and started to do physio.
“I had my first launch party only eight weeks after the surgery and I had to wear heels, that was a struggle.
“Everything is still moving in my back, it takes nine months for the screws and everything to fuse. It’s a strange sensation, but I kept smiling through it. Temporary pain, long term gain.
“The Munster finals were ten weeks after the surgery, and I said to myself, ‘If I can do this, I can do anything.
“I can prove to myself and other people that when life throws obstacles at you, if you just keep a positive mindset and believe in yourself it will work out.”
She credits her family with helping her keep a bright outlook on life.
“They are just amazing, I couldn’t have done any of this without them. My dad is always telling me, ‘don’t give up hope, this is going to teach you something and it’s all going to be worth it. You’re going to come out much stronger and prepared for the future.’ And he was so right.
“And my mom Michelle introduced me to mindfulness practices four years ago such as meditation and journaling.
“It has helped me tremendously to work through negative emotions and keep a positive outlook on life. I want to encourage young people to practice mindfulness as it reduces anxiety and stress.”
Prior to her diagnosis she had been an active youngster, involved in athletics and camogie.
Attention was only drawn to her condition when she sought treatment for a sports injury, with an X-ray revealing her spine to be so curved it was “like a snake on my back”.
She began to experience “awful” pain as her muscles were continually in spasm and she tried intensive physiotherapy hoping to avoid surgery.
When the pain continued she underwent her first spinal surgery in which two metal rods and 100 screws were inserted in her back. After one of the screws came loose she was told she needed another operation, however her second also had issues.
“The screws just didn’t agree with me because I’m so active. For the third they inserted metal hooks which allow for more movement in the spine which is great because I can really feel the difference.
“I’m so much more flexible now, before I could barely lift my hands above my head. Now I’m doing yoga.”
She is waiting on a check-up, however Derinn is hopeful this latest surgery will be her last.
As well as her studies, Derinn has been working at Adrianos Pizza on the Gort Road, and she has been delighted with the support she has received from her employer.
“When I started working there they didn’t even know I had scoliosis, and when I told them in March I had to go in for the surgery they were so good and told me my job would be here for me. That was so kind and they have been really supportive of me with the competition.”
In recent weeks Derinn has raised more than €2,000 for an organisation very close to her heart. She has been working with Straight Ahead Ireland who help take children with major orthopaedic issues such as severe scoliosis off the HSE waiting lists and provide them with life changing surgery.
“The work they do is truly incredible. These children could be waiting up to 10 years for surgery if they don’t have insurance, and their conditions are deteriorating while they wait. I want to try and help make a difference, and I’m going to continue working to raise funds and awareness.”
Derinn will represent her county at the Diamond Jubilee Miss Ireland show with 1500 in attendance on August 20 at the Royal Theatre Castlebar.
As Miss Clare, Derinn will represent her county and attend various awards, openings and engagements in Clare over the next year as well as working on her charity projects.
To donate visit the following page for Straight Ahead Ireland at GoFundMe.com.