Health and Disability Shortlist 2019

Eric Beggs

Fighting Blindness, Louth.

Eric Beggs was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa (RP) in his forties and has no eyesight left as a result. His friend Peter, who is sadly now deceased, introduced Eric to Fighting Blindness and fundraising. Since then, Eric has completed treks, tandem cycles, Easter egg hunts, church gate collections and more to raise money for the charity. He has organised events every single year for the past 15 years, spending his personal time tirelessly fundraising and raising awareness.

He began fundraising primarily through church gate collections and taking part in sponsored walks. However, in 2014 he decided to take his fundraising one step further and started the annual Cooley Mountain Trek. The event was a sponsored trek through the beautiful Cooley Mountains. Eric organised the whole event with the help of his family. He secured lots of local sponsors, refreshments for participants, post-event entertainment and lots of coverage in local media. The inaugural event raised €7,217 and Eric went on to run six more Cooley Treks before his last one in 2019. The final 2019 Cooley Mt Trek raised €10,500!

Eric is tireless in his efforts, he said: “I have organised many events over the years. I don’t care what I have to do as long as it works and helps to find a breakthrough. I think it’s probably too late to find something to help me now but, as long as there is breath in my body, I’ll keep working until they find something that can help younger people from losing any more sight.”

To date Eric has raised €150,000 for Fighting Blindness through fundraising activities.

Gertrude Howley

GROW in Ireland, Waterford.

As a Presentation Sister for over 30 years, Gertrude has always been passionate about helping the local community. Coming into contact with people suffering in the community, she felt she needed to do more. She then decided to start a GROW group in Dungarvan and at the same time began her training to become a counselor, where she continues to provide no cost/low cost counselling to people.

Gert is the Regional Chairperson, served on the National Board and Program Team and was instrumental in securing a permanent premises in Kilkenny. She has run hundreds of community outreach and fundraising projects. Over the past 35 years she has developed and provides community adult education in the form of 10 week and 4 week courses. She also founded the “Little Lantern” Counselling and personal development centre with the help of her community (presentation sisters). She also runs meditation groups, prayer group, brings senior citizens together for prayer, tea and chat.

Gert is also an excellent fundraiser for GROW.  Her very first fundraiser was a cycle from Dungarvan to Tipperary Town which she called “Its a long way to Tipperary,” she participated herself (on a motor scooter) and personally raised over £2000 Irish Punts. In the course of a week she would see approx 25 individual clients for counselling, have at least 20 people in the weekly GROW groups and teach at least 25 people meditation and mindfulness.  Gert’s idea of relaxation is to teach horse riding (on a voluntary basis) to children once a week!

Robin Winkels

Row to Recovery, Galway.

Dragon Boat Racing has been proven to help the recovery of breast cancer survivors but unfortunatley the River Corrib isn’t suitable for such boats. Robin came up with the idea to row in tour boats and 5 years later now coaches a group of 15 women. Coaching twice a week, Robin has not missed a day in 5 years even arranging soemone to cover for her when she’s away.

Thanks to Robin these women have formed a close knit bond. She hasn’t just created an exercise group but a welcoming cancer support group. Robin has also arranged yoga lessons and alexander technique lessons, as well as regular guest rowing coaches. She has organized physiotherapists to give the group lessons on how to stretch before and after rowing. For the last 3 years she has organized an annual rowing weekend away.

According to Carol who nominated her “Robin has brought together a group of women who have become firm friends, who most likely would never have met in the ordinary course of events. We range from early 40s to late 60s.  We feel we have a safe and friendly support group and we feel empowered by our having learnt a new skill and by the way the exercise has made us fit. We have been given the opportunity to make our bodies fit and healthy again and something to be loved and proud of.”