Derg Athletic Club gearing up for highly-anticipated fundraiser

THEY may be looking forward to a well-deserved summer break but the dedicated team behind the renowned Derg Athletic Club aren’t hanging up their running shoes just yet.

This Sunday, June 23, both young and old alike are set to join forces as part of an inclusive five mile run or walk for adults and a one kilometre route for children.

The event, which is aimed towards enthusiasts of all abilities, including avid runners, walkers and wheelchair users, will not only bring the Killaloe/Ballina community together but also raise vital funds for an ongoing inclusive project at Clarisford Park. 

The project, which is also aimed at attracting members of all abilities to the club, will see the construction of significant athletics facilities at the popular park, including a running track, a long jump area, a sprinting area and a natural playing surface. 

As part of the overall project, Derg AC in partnership with Clarisford Park have received substantial LEADER funding in their bid to complete the second and third phase of the ambitious scheme. 

A driving force behind the club’s successful application is the fact that, when completed, the Clarisford Park facility will be available and accessible to the whole community, including local wheelchair users and individuals with autism.

The upcoming Derg AC five mile event and kids run highlights the inclusive nature of the Killaloe/Ballina-based club, which is keen to focus on the many benefits of participating in sport with ongoing inclusive athletics.

“We have a session every Saturday and we are targeting two groups at the moment, those with autism and children with physical disabilities,” explained Derg AC chairperson, Deirdre Coleman.

“Once we have the track in place there is so much more that we can do. Athletics is ideally suited to wheelchair users because its individual nature and there are wheelchair competitions,” she added.

With this in mind, Deirdre believes that the importance of opening the doors and making the club available to all of the community has benefits that go far beyond the athletic tracks.

Linking up well with the local community, Derg AC hopes to continue to attract members from all abilities and all walks of life, including those from local autism units at both Ballina and Boher national schools.  

“The nature of athletics allows us to be inclusive maybe more so than team sports that would require more co-ordination and also the pressure of being involved with a team.

“It really is about being inclusive for all the different disabilities.

“Clarisford Park is ideally suited because there are no cars, it is off the beaten track a little bit. 

“From the first few sessions [inclusive athletics] that we have had, the space, the trees and just being out in the air is beneficial for mental health,” added Deirdre.

One such beneficiary is Nicola Welford, who along with Alison Smith oversees the inclusive athletics initiative at Derg AC after recently getting involved with the club. 

Nicola, whose four-year-old daughter Julie is a wheelchair user, decided to volunteer her time after the club saw the need and demand for inclusive athletics in the Killaloe/Ballina community.

“The idea is inclusion and athletics for all,” she explained.

“Ideally the plan is that the children can move on from the inclusive section and go into the main club with the other kids.

“For me, Julie, never had anything social to attend. We would go to all the training sessions and she loved being there and involved but she would have always been sitting at the other side of the fence.

“She’d be just watching on from her spot and that was kind of where she stayed. At least now she has somewhere where she can pack her little bag and she can go to her athletics,” added Ms Welford. 

It is hoped that Sunday’s fundraiser will bridge the gap needed to get Derg AC’s project over the line. 

It is estimated that funding granted from LEADER and the Sports Capital Programme will contribute up to 80 per cent of the cost of the scheme with fundraisers such as the Derg AC ‘5 miler and kids run’ contributing to the remaining costs.

As part of the fourth phase of the overall project, Derg AC hopes to install flood lighting at Clarisford Park having recently applied for Sport Capital 2019 funding.

Ongoing training and athletic classes include little athletics for those aged between five and seven, junior athletics for members aged between eight and 11, ‘Fit4Teens’, and ‘Fit4Life’. 

Derg AC also has a successful squad of athletes who compete in a range of track and field events at Munster and national levels, with many of those looking forward to the national championships in July.

The Derg AC five-mile event gets underway at 10am on Sunday, June 23 at Clarisford Park, followed by the kids run and walk which takes centre stage at 11.30am.

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