MAYO residents will shortly be turning out to support Fr. Tony Coote, who is walking from Letterkenny to Ballydehob in Co. Cork in a bid to highlight the plight of Motor Neurone Disease sufferers in Ireland.
Following his own recent diagnosis with the disease, the plucky priest is taking on the challenge of walking the 550km distance under the banner of ‘Walk While You Can’ and the hashtag #walkwithtony.
He's asking for walkers and well-wishers in each county along the way to come out and support him in raising €250,000 to help fund care and research into combating the disease, for which there is no cure.
A former chaplain in UCD, Tony and his team began their walk in Letterkenny on Tuesday (July10), and they will be walking through Mayo next week.
On Tuesday, July 17, Fr. Tony will walk from Tubbercurry to Knock, passing through Charlestown and Kilkelly en route.
Wednesday, July 18, is a 'Lá Saor' in Knock before he heads off again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, July 19, from the Basilica, making his way to Claremorris.
And it's not all about walking, with some fun events planned along the way.
In Claremorris, there will be a game of 25 in the GAA club, and Dance While You Can is taking place in the Dalton Inn at 7 p.m. on Thursday with music by David Godfrey and the A Team. Dance tickets will be available on the door on the night at €20.
The walking shoes will be back on again on Friday morning (20th), departing from the church carpark to arrive in Tuam that evening.
Speaking about the walk, Fr. Tony said: “I want to use the time that I have left and my voice to do something positive and I invite everyone to become part of Walk While You Can, by walking, donating, organising a fundraising event or offering overnight accommodation for me and the team of six who are also walking and helping me to go the distance.
“By supporting the walk, you are not only lending your voice to our call for better supports and services for people living with this, and other neurological conditions, but you are helping make those supports possible.”
He continued: “ This time last year I was fit and healthy – I had no idea what was in store for me. None of us know when it might be their turn and so, I’m determined to turn my experience into a positive force for future generations of MND sufferers.”
Tony and his team are inviting people to carry a yellow balloon as a sign of hope and several well-known faces will be joining them at certain points along the way.
Receiving a terminal diagnosis often results in a state of despair and fear. But for this active and popular Dublin priest, who’s always enjoyed boundless energy as well as a contagious zest for life, it’s been an opportunity to spread a message of awareness and hope.
Following the initial shock of his diagnosis, Tony resolved to do something positive. He found himself part of a vastly under-resourced medical world of lengthy waiting lists, over-burdened medics and medication that is over 24 years old. In addition, only three specialist nurses cover the 400 people living with MND in Ireland.
Instead of complaining however, Tony decided to walk the length of Ireland to help highlight the need for further funding and to support research and care for MND patients.
‘Walk While You Can is all about bringing people and communities across Ireland together to raise vital awareness and support for suffers of MND. All funds raised will be donated for new medication research to Research Motor Neurone and to the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association for the care of those living with the illness.
Although the disease has physically affected Tony and his normal everyday life, he still continues to work in his parish and trust in God: “I’m not afraid of death. Of course I’m afraid of losing my independence and, even though I struggle with it, I get up every morning and say ‘Lord thank you for today, please help me through the rest of it’.
“It is frustrating because everything is slower and takes longer. But I’m not angry. I don’t ask ‘why me’. Things happen in life and I leave myself in the hands of God and Jesus Christ, who I look forward to meeting anyway.”
For more details and information about meeting up and supporting Tony Coote and Walk While You Can, visit http://wwyc.ie/.