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Marathon runner Gary is on top of the world

Mike Glynn



A Galway man was literally on top of the world this week after winning the UVU North Pole Marathon.

Gary Thornton led a field of 35 competitors on Tuesday to take the title in what has been called ‘the world’s coolest marathon’.

The Newcastle native battled deep snow and temperatures of -30C to complete the course in a time of 3 hours 49.29 seconds.

Speaking from Svalbard in Norway, the 33-years-old said that the race was “indescribable”.

In travelling to the event, Gary admitted that he was “going into the unknown”.

“I wasn’t going up there with a target time in my head because it’s so different.”

Even though the event organisers called the conditions “the toughest we ever had”, the race winner revealed that he was feeling a lot better after the marathon than he had expected.

“I feel ok, I thought I’d be pretty tired but I’m not too bad. I feel good having rested since Tuesday,” Gary said.

“We were running on snow, so the damage to your muscles wouldn’t be the same as a normal road race.”

Gary had company on the long trip to the North Pole as his wife, Elaine, also ran in the event, completing the half-marathon. He finished just 13 minutes behind the race record set by fellow Irishman, Thomas Maguire, in 2007.

According to Galwayman Richard Donovan, the race founder, Gary’s achievement is difficult to compare against past events due to the constantly changing conditions on the North Pole.

However, he said the Galway man’s effort was “a cracking time” considering the conditions.

“The guy Gary finished ahead of is a very good runner and he finished a long way in front of him,” Richard said.

Temperatures were hitting -30C when the competitors set off on the 26.2 mile looped circuit.

Gary said that ice formed across his eyes during the race, the only part of his skin that was exposed.

“I went up there not thinking I’d need a facemask but thankfully I made the decision before the race to wear one,” he revealed.

The primary school teacher said temperatures ‘warmed’ to around -20C during the race. While the snow was soft underfoot, it meant that the marathon became more challenging as the race continued.

While one would think that the athletes would be thankful for the rising temperatures, it actually proved a hindrance to them.

“As the temperature rose, the course became softer. The snow started to disintegrate and it became really difficult for the racers,” Gary explained.

He described the snow as “very deep” by the end of the race.

“As people were going round the circuit it was breaking up and coming up over your knee,” he said.

“The section running along the camp runway was the best bit as it was solid ice.”

The race’s remote location meant that event organisers had to send out a crew to scout a route for the marathon.

“Once we found that, Russian paratroopers were air-dropped with a tractor to prepare the runway and camp,” Gary said.

He believes that the race is probably the only one where a man with a rifle is required to protect the competitors from the threat of polar bears.

“The race is an adventure where running is only a secondary element,” Richard added.

The marathon began at midnight local time on Tuesday and finished in the early hours of the morning.

For most people, a marathon beginning at midnight would conjure images of competitors racing through the night. However, Gary explained that the race’s unique location meant that this late start was possible.

“It’s bright all the time at the North Pole this time of year so we were able to race through the night,” he said.

When he is not running over the Arctic Ocean, the 33-years-old is a teacher at Claddagh NS. He was quick to praise his employers for their support.

“The school have been outstanding in terms of helping me with my career. I’m working as part of a job-share at the moment which has me working three days a week,” he said.

The former Irish 10,000m track champion’s flexible working hours allow him to continue the training required to compete in top level athletics.

After narrowly missing out on qualification for the London Olympics, Gary fully intends to return to more traditional athletic events in the coming months.

“I have altitude training in France in two weeks and I have track races coming up in the Summer. I feel fit and strong, I’ve been doing a lot of gym work in the last six weeks,” he said.


Brave Holly’s battle against leukaemia

Denise McNamara



A keen young camogie player from Knocknacarra diagnosed with leukaemia at the start of the first lockdown has now learned that she has lost her sight in one eye due to a rare complication.

Holly McAlinney was the picture of health at age seven. Her mother Sharon remembers the day schools were closed last March that her teacher had remarked that Holly had difficulty hearing in class.

She took her to the GP, thinking it was an ear infection and then her jaw swelled up so she thought it may have been her adenoids acting up. When medication did nothing to relieve the symptoms, they sent off a blood test.

“I went to the doctor with her on my own, you were only allowed one parent in at a time. They asked if I could call my husband so I knew things were bad. They confirmed it was leukaemia on a Wednesday and on the Monday we were in Crumlin Children’s Hospital getting chemotherapy – that’s how quickly it’s all been.”

Holly is now in the middle of her fourth round of chemo, which she undergoes weekly one day a week in the Dublin hospital. When she finishes this, she will have a fifth round given over two years to ensure the cancer doesn’t return.

Her medical team are extremely positive about her prospects. There is currently a 98 per cent survival rate with leukaemia, which is of course a huge relief to family and friends.

But things haven’t gone plain sailing throughout the treatment. Holly developed ulcers on her duodenum which left her in intensive care for a spell. And then last week, the family learned that the leukaemia had infiltrated her left eye, leaving a gap which could result in permanent blindness.

“We’re seeing a specialist in University Hospital Galway (UHG) next week but we don’t hold out much hope the sight will come back. Holly’s the most upbeat of all of us because she’s so young – she can’t see the repercussions into the future.

“That’s the way she’s been throughout the treatment. The first two rounds were heavy and the third quite light so she bounced right back. She was in school September and October, you wouldn’t know she was sick, and we felt she was safe because everything was so clean and with all the bubbles.

“It was right back down with the fourth round which was the heaviest so she can’t go see anyone just her brother – it’s heart-breaking.”

Her school friends have been keeping in touch by sending videos and cards to Holly to cheer her up.

While camogie and swimming will be out of the occasion for the foreseeable future, Sharon is confident they can find other hobbies that will enthral Holly, who is a very sociable and sporty girl. Sharon trains Holly with the U-8 camogie team with Salthill-Knocknacarra GAA.

The frequent trips to Dublin and hospital appointments has meant that Sharon has had to give up her job working in the Little Stars Montessori on the Cappagh Road, where son Alex still attends afterschool. Dad Rob works as an alarm engineer.

New mothers that Sharon met in Holly’s parent and baby group in Knocknacarra have organised a fundraiser to help the family get through the financial stress of coping with cancer.

They are planning a hike on December 6 at Diamond Hill, Connemara and have already raised €16,000 in donations.

“Rob and I are both from Salthill, but it’s been amazing the amount of people we wouldn’t have heard or seen in years who have contacted us to offer support. It’s only when you’re in trouble that you realise how good people can be.”

■ To make a donation, log on to GoFundMe

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Connacht Tribune

Full details of the Christmas Covid restrictions

Enda Cunningham



The Taoiseach announced this evening that the country will move to Level 3 restrictions from next week, with shops, gyms, hairdressers, hotels, restaurants and gastro-pubs set to reopen.

“It hasn’t been easy. Many individuals and businesses have made huge sacrifices. And many more are totally fed up with Covid-19 and everything that has come with it over the past nine months. I understand that feeling. Very often I share it,” Micheál Martin said in an address to the nation.

“This cannot and will not be the kind of Christmas we are used to but it will be a very special time where we all enjoy some respite,” he said, as he announced the planned move to “Level 3, with some modifications”.

The use of face coverings is now recommended in crowded workplaces, places of worship and in busy or crowded outdoor spaces where there is significant congregation.

From 1 December, under Level 3, as set out in the Plan for Living with Covid-19:

  • weddings with up to 25 guests are permitted (same as current provisions)
  • funerals with up to 25 mourners are permitted (same as current provisions)
  • no organised indoor events should take place, other than as provided below
  • gatherings of 15 people may take place outdoors
  • non-contact training may take place outdoors in pods of 15
  • only individual training should take place indoors and no exercise or dance classes are permitted
  • no matches/events may take place except professional and elite sports, approved inter-county Gaelic games, horse-racing and approved equestrian events, all behind closed doors
  • gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools may reopen for individual training only
  • nightclubs, discos and casinos should remain closed
  • hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs may open with services limited to residents only
  • non-essential retail and personal services may reopen
  • people should continue to work from home unless absolutely necessary to attend in person
  • public transport capacity is limited to 50%

From 1 December:

  • households should not mix with any other households outside those within their bubble
  • people should stay within their county apart from work, education and other essential purposes

From 4 December:

  • restaurants and pubs operating as restaurants (serving a substantial meal) may reopen for indoor dining with additional restrictions, (including requirement for meals to be prepared on site, inside the premises). This includes access for non-residents to restaurants in hotels
  • higher, further and adult education should remain primarily online

Adjustments for the Christmas Period

From 1 December:

  • places of worship to reopen for services with restrictive measures, subject to review in January
  • museums, galleries, and libraries to reopen
  • cinemas to reopen
  • wet pubs to remain closed except for takeaway/delivery

From 18 December to 6 January:

  • households can mix with up to two other households
  • travel outside your county to be permitted

From 7 January, the measures put in place prior to 18 December will apply, subject to ongoing review of the trajectory of the virus.

The measures for cross-border travel will be the same as for travel between all other counties, that is, from 1 December, people should stay within their county apart from work, education and other essential purposes while from 18 December to 6 January, travel outside the county is permitted.

It has further been agreed that the use of face coverings is now recommended in crowded workplaces, places of worship and in busy or crowded outdoor spaces where there is significant congregation.

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Proposals to change speed limits in Galway City are voted down

Dara Bradley



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Planned speed limit changes for Galway City are stuck in the slow lane after councillors rejected a proposal for new bylaws.

The bylaws would have introduced a 30km/h zone in the city centre and 19 other changes, including increased speed limits in areas such as Bóthar na dTreabh to 80km/h.

Management at City Hall have now been sent back to the drawing board to draft new speed limit bylaws after a majority of elected members voted against them – it could at least two years before new proposals are ready.

At a meeting this week, several councillors spoke out against plans to increase speed limits to 80km/h on approach roads into the city.

Many of them criticised the system of selecting roads for speed limit changes, lashed the public consultation process and decried the lack of input from councillors, despite speed limits being a reserved function of elected members.

Councillors were particularly peeved that the proposal had to be accepted in its entirety, without amendments, or rejected outright – they could not pick and choose individual changes.

Deputy Mayor Collette Connolly (Ind) led the charge against the bylaws, which she described as “idiotic”.

She lambasted the “incomprehensible decision” not to lower speed limits to 30km/h outside schools and she said it was “utter raiméis” (nonsense) that speeds can’t be lowered to 30km/h, if 85% of the traffic on that road travels at 50km/h.

Cllr Connolly said the bylaws were “flawed”, and cited the decision to leave Rahoon Road/Shantalla Road at 50km/h, despite a crèche and two schools on other roads like Lough Atalia remaining at 30km/h.

(Photo: A speed van on Bóthar na dTreabh on Thursday morning)
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, including how each councillor voted and a map of the proposed changes, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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