Andy completes marathon effort for cause close to his heart

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LOCAL man Andy Deal has completed an extraordinary running challenge all in aid of a very special charity.

Last Saturday morning, June 22nd, Andy set off on a 24 hour run on the East Strand in Portrush in a bid to raise money for SANDS NI (Stillbirth & Neonatal Death Support).

He braved the weather and physical exertion to complete the challenge on the Sunday morning for a cause very close to his heart.

“My daughter Poppy Rose died in 2009 only eight days old,” Andy told Times Sport. “This as you can imagine devastated the family and life will never be the same again.

“Yet these extremely powerful emotions can, when the time is right, allow to achieve the unachievable, face your worst fears, make you strong, suffer extreme pain because we have been through worse.

“The support for the run was evident from the outset, 104 parkrunners turned up to give me a big send off on my way to completing what will be my biggest challenge to date. With surf schools preparing for their lessons and volleyball nets being set up the parkrunners set off onto East Strand beach. The tide was on it’s way out and the weather was holding out.

“The first 20 runners all wore bespoke running vests supplied by O’Neills of Strabane, who very kindly donated the 20 running vests and six squad tops for the event.

“As the hours ticked by we went past the 50km mark and as the tide came back in again the weather deteriorated and the occasional patches of rain turned into longer, heavier downpours. The gusts of wind got stronger and by the time it was high tide we found ourselves pushed up onto the sand dunes and scrambling across the white rocks.

“Johnny Goldie (Springwell Running Club) was using this as a training run for his own 24 hour run in July. His company was greatly appreciated.

“By the time high tide had come we had to resort to walking each of the stages as our legs had taken a pounding in the soft sand. This is where you find out what you are made of, where you test your central governor.

“The wind blew us out to the White Rocks and then drove into our face on the way back. The persistent rain through the night forced us to chose less wet and cold clothes over the ones we were wearing. At some point through dark o’clock we broke the 100km mark, we celebrated this with the 8-10 supporters that had been and were going to be there for the night.

“As daylight broke there was no let up in the wind or rain but there seemed to be a new lease of life. We tried running for the first time in a number of hours but the soft sand had taken it’s toll hours before. But as the troops descended onto the East Strand from Springwell, family and friends gathered for the last hour.

“This provided an extra source of energy deep within and as I ran down the promenade for the last time, I had my wife’s hand and a baton. The baton contained a photo of our daughter Poppy and a foot print of Zak (Andrew and Joanne’s son). The crowds had gathered and all the emotions of the 24 hours and the build up to it were finally released. A mixture of relief, sadness, happiness, pride, etc all came to the forefront.

“As the baton was then passed onto the cycling leg of the fundraising challenge we stood hugging all those who had supported us through the day. There were some other personal achievements through the 24 hour period. Johnny Goldie 100km, Gav lasted all 24 hours despite an injury after 18 miles, Dave Stewart’s marathon distance from midnight to 09:30, my wife Kirsty who also managed 35 km. All these are not to be forgotten as they helped me get to the end.

“But before all this started, it took the dedication and organisation of my wife to ensure that whilst I was doing my bit for Poppy then she would do hers.

“That was the organisation side of it. Without this great back up support then we couldn’t have achieved what we did.

“So is that it... my challenge complete... or is this just the start of another adventure into what can be achieved. Time will tell.”