Mark O’Donoghue

MARK O’DONOGHUE – CYCLING FOR ALL FOUNDER IS DECEMBER CORK PERSON OF THE MONTH

Mark O’Donoghue from Glanmire has been named December Person of the Month. Mark has been giving people with disabilities the chance to enjoy outdoor life by enlisting them as cycling partners on his tandem bicycles. He set up the Cycling For All organisation some years ago as a way of giving something back to society.

Cycling For All Cork is a volunteer adaptive bike service, available to people who, as founder and organiser Mark O’Donoghue explains,”for whatever reason, cannot cycle a bicycle by themselves.  For instance, blind and vision impaired people, those with Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Downs Syndrome, balance issues, spinal cord injuries, paraplegics, quadriplegics; also those left with the after-effects of strokes, for whom we also have Recumbent tricycles, and hand-cycles where appropriate.  The clue is in the title, Cycling For All Cork – and Mark O’Donoghue and his team work on a completely volunteer basis.

“I could have been disabled myself as I’ve acquired some serious injuries over the years including spending months in traction after an accident. Also one time my kneecap literally fell apart and I remember telling them up in the Orthopaedic Hospital that I would be cycling again by Christmas. The physio., in the next cubicle joked, that if I achieved that, she would buy me a bottle of champagne. I won the bet and that physiotherapist is now my wife “ said Mark”.

Mark’s imagination was fired originally by an article he read in a cycling magazine about an Englishman named Dominic Gill, who cycled across America on a tandem bicycle, taking a number of different people with disabilities along with him on the various legs of the journey.  “I thought this was absolutely fantastic,” Mark recalls.  “I already owned a Thorn tandem bike, and, through my involvement with Irish Wheelchair Basketball, I knew some people with a variety of different disabilities.  I began taking some of them out on the tandem from Blackrock to Passage, and I quickly discovered that there was a mushrooming demand out there.”

Mark soon found himself tandem cycling three times a day on a 20k round trip, two or three days every week.  Having done this for a number of years, Tom English, a doctor contacted by one of Mark’s back seat riders , joined Mark as a volunteer pilot, and with Gerry Collins from Blackrock also on board as a pilot; Mark now had three volunteer pilots, and three tandems.

Blind Cork man Robert Fourie admits he was hesitant before contacting the Cycling For All group, but now he says he is really enjoying participating on a bicycle made for two.

Things continued to expand, in terms of a growing demand for the service, and fortunately,  the involvement of more volunteer pilots – and indeed tandems.  Leonard O’Mahony, one of the vision impaired back seat riders, (stoker is the correct term used here),, began a fundraiser to purchase a second-hand Thorn tandem, at an approximate cost of £2,500, and Tom English undertook to finance a further tandem.  Two of the pilots participated in a training course for pilots, run by Vision Sports Ireland in Bray.

What sets this initiative apart is the dedication to adapt bicycles to suit individuals with a wide range of disabilities. Mr. O’Donoghue is at the helm of collecting and modifying these bikes, ensuring that they cater to the specific needs of their riders.

Mark O’Donoghue was already changing lives with his tandem bike for years before joining forces with his friends. Together, they have set their sights on expanding this exceptional service, with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of people living with debilitating conditions across Cork. Their dream is to establish a storage facility in Blackrock, offering controlled access for tandem bike pilots and cyclists, promoting convenience and further fostering community togetherness.

Currently, there are 12 participating stokers from Cork city and county, and from as far afield as Kerry; with 8 tandem bikes now available.  Also, courtesy of a grant from Cork Sports Partnership and Cork City Council, Cycling For all Cork now have 2 Recumbent tricycles, and a hand-cycle. Cork City Council have also supplied an all-important storage unit for the tandem bikes, tricycles, and hand-cycle; once again with the involvement of Cork Sports Partnership.

Mark also teaches junior infants in schools how to cycle, also bike handling skills for older kids. In addition, he teaches children with dyspraxia and autism how to cycle.

Cycling For All Cork are always looking for more tandems.  Mark says his enthusiasm is renewed continually by the clear enjoyment of the stokers.  “We use the high quality English-made Thorn Tandem, which cost £4,000 to £6,000 new.  We would like to have 2 or 3 more new or second-hand tandems, and have continuing demand from more future stokers, together with a matching interest from more volunteer pilots.  We would also like to think that Cycling For All Cork could be a template for starting similar groups around the country.”  added Mark.  “We can be contacted at cyclingforallcork@gmail.com.”