11th June 2020
Conquering the Irish coastline virtually via the scenic surroundings of the Sligo countryside is something occupational therapist Lisa McGill never anticipated for May 2020. The Sligo community-based Occupational Therapist, along with physiotherapist Shane Bohan and speech and language therapist Tara Cawley, saw an opportunity to gather a community of colleagues and set a collective challenge to complete a 1707km round trip of Irish coastal towns and raise funds for local charities.
The reaction when they reached out to their colleagues was overwhelming – within two weeks they had completed their first virtual tour and raised over €3,000. Realising the interest and the benefit everyone was gaining, they decided to embark on another virtual coastline tour and continue fundraising. With most having been re deployed from their main jobs into COVID-19 related services including testing centres and community assessment hubs, there was a further opportunity for a virtual coming together while apart in the evening to share experiences and gain support through this new network.
“We were aware that physios in Mayo had set their own challenge and had done their own fundraising so we (Shane, Lisa and Tara) thought we should do something up here ourselves. Within half an hour of our initial chat we decided to set the challenge of completing a virtual tour of the coastal towns of Ireland and chose three local charities to benefit.
We really did underestimate how far we would travel in such a short period of time – even though we didn’t want to put too much pressure on ourselves, when more and more people joined we managed to complete the our first lap of Ireland in 14 days - well ahead of schedule.”
Everyone was encouraged everyone to find their own pace and gain as much from the experience on a personal basis to make it accessible to everyone participating.
“Some of those who joined were happy to take a stroll in the evening and others took on the challenge in virtual groups. We figured that everyone should set their own target and while some did 2km a day, others did 5km and the ambitious amongst us managed many more. But that was the joy of it, there was absolutely no pressure,” said Lisa.
“One of our colleagues with a physical disability told us she was delighted to be able to participate at her own pace. She could walk or use an exercise bike at home, but could be part of the overall project which she really enjoyed. And in the end she was the one who clocked up the most kms.”
Along with many colleagues across the country Lisa was redeployed into COVID-19 frontline roles in recent weeks.
“At the start it was particularly challenging – I was continuing with my own role as an OT on a limited basis. But for the first time ever in my time as a health professional I was wearing full PPE. Of course there was an element of trepidation and worry but all of that abated when we got down to the testing centre. It was so well set up.
“The atmosphere there is so calm. The staff are lovely and we have all met lots of new colleagues there. I actually found I was happy to get to work each to see everyone because we all worked so well together. Even though for example when we were having lunch, and we were stretched across from one another at a two metre distance, there was a great sense of collective purpose.” Having the virtual tour was a big help too.
“There are lots of resources from the HSE website around staff health and wellbeing which are great but of course the real challenge is getting out and doing it but that’s where our group approach has been the big motivator. We all found ourselves coming home from work – in my case from a day of testing – and to have the motivation of heading out with the virtual group was brilliant.”
The group completed their second lap on May 31st. They completed 3880kms in 31 days and raised over €4,100 euros for the three charities.
“We really weren’t looking to put any pressure on anyone around the fund raising element so it was really left up to individuals but it is great that we have done so well. Our charities are so delighted with the monies as it’s obviously been a difficult time for them and so it really was worthwhile,” said Lisa.
Having built such a momentum and created such a sense of community, Lisa is confident they will continue.
“We are not sure yet exactly what form it will take but we will definitely arrange something, when the time is obviously right, to allow us all to come together physically as a group – it could be a 5km walk; a hike; it still has to be worked out. But we hope to continue to support and motivate one another.”