Sinead Kane: A journey around the world that started within

By completing seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, Kane entered the World Record Books by becoming the first visually impaired female athlete to complete the World Marathon Challenge

BY Cian Roche 10:15 Saturday 4 February 2017, 10:15 4 Feb 2017

Image: Allianz Ireland

Sinead Kane doesn't usually get blisters on her feet.

As an experienced runner she knows exactly how to prepare for a big race, her tactics for her run and the equipment she'll need to last the distance.

In a week of firsts, Kane completed seven marathons on seven continents in seven days and all with just five per cent vision.

Her journey began in Antarctica, where the glare of the sun off the snow bounced back into her face. Preparation for the event meant she had to shield her eyes to stop them from watering and resulting in a migraine. When people think about those without full sight, they think of the darkness the person must see. Kane, however, sees too much of the light.

"I wore wool socks and trail running shoes which I wouldn't normally wear," she explains. The blisters on her feet came in the opening six miles of the maiden race.

"That has never happened to me in any other race. I told the guide runner as I was running along that I felt hot spots on my feet and I'm the type of person that I don't like stopping in any race and when I told him he said I should stop and get it checked out and bandaged maybe.

"I didn't want to stop but I knew I had another six marathons after this one and if you injure your feet badly today you might not get to race number two tomorrow. For me to actually stop at six miles, go into the tent and get it bandaged."

What threatened to be over before it really got started, her perseverance saw her through a difficult opening spell. To be shaken at a time when mental fortitude was imperative was not an ideal way to start.

"I was like 'come on, come on, you're wasting time and I'm losing position out there.' That was difficult, I wasn't expecting that." She was bandaged up. She finished the race and she got on the plane to travel to Chile for her second event.

"I wasn't expecting my feet to swell on the plane also. I had imagined this lovely chartered flight where it was business class with reclining seats and I would just fall off to sleep.

"I don't think I got three or four hours sleep combined throughout the whole thing because I thought I would get asleep on these reclining seats but I didn't. I didn't expect that."

The swelling was the next roadblock. She was forced to wear her sandals right up until the starting line in an overcast Punta Arenas.

"I'd literally have to squash my feet into the runners. There were days there before the marathon where I said to John [O'Regan, her running guide] my feet wouldn't actually fit into my runners."

Time and again obstacles surfaced and were overcome. There were times during the races that the Youghal native didn't see herself crossing the line and collecting her medal. But ingrained in her attitude was the will to persevere. That has come at a cost. Building the mental strength to withstand one of world's toughest endurance events has come as a result of years of hardship and loneliness.

As a child she was bullied. Children in her class would place her schoolbag out of her field of vision and say they had hidden it. They would hide books on her during class.

"I would end up with bruises and people would think that I had accidentally fallen, but it was because other children had hit me."

Secondary school took more of a toll on her mental well-being.

"It was isolation," she says. "People saw me as an awkward, difficult student."

Sinead and John running on the Madrid led of the World Marathon Challenge

The old cliché of 'what doesn''t kill you makes you stronger' sounds too cheap to apply to a woman who has come through so much to achieve what she has. Kane has traversed conditions in Marrakesh, Madrid and Dubai, before completing her journey in Australia. More than 180 miles in seven days. The distance was only part of her goal of "having endless vision" to grow as a person.

"Anyone can say they want to inspire people, but it’s actually about getting out there and doing the task. I hope that I don’t have to tell people that I want to inspire them. I hope they can look at the challenge that I’ve done and feel inspired. Whether you have a disability or not.

"They don’t have to do seven continents, seven marathons in seven days to be successful. You only have to set your own personal goals. I think what differentiates me from other people is the fact that I’m willing to make sacrifices. The road to greatness is lonely and the road in 2016 has been very lonely.

"I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to achieve this goal and encountered a lot of rejection. Even though there’s all this overwhelming support now, there were some people who weren’t there on the rainy and cold days.

"They didn’t feel the loneliness I felt on those days. They didn’t feel the rejection that I felt when another sponsor said they would. I’m thankful for all the support I have now. But to get to this point, it hasn’t happened overnight. It’s been a lot of hard work."

Before she set out on her task journey to conquer the world in a way which she felt would liberate her she said: "I’m doing this because I want to change people’s perception of disability."

So does she think she has achieved her goal?

"I can’t control how other people think," she admits. "But I hope I have. I can only control what I do. I’ve done the task, so now it’s up to others as to how they judge others with disabilities."

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