Going the Distance to Help Grandson’s Fight for Sight

08 July 15

written by:

Heather Fanning

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Cycle challenge for eye research

Grandfather Francie Rooney, from Poyntzpass, along with his 27-year-old nephew, John James Fallon, from Hilltown, completed a challenge of their life-time to help save six-year-old Caolan’s sight.

Their fundraising challenge began on Tuesday 23 June and they were raising vital funds for Fight for Sight, a charity that funds pioneering eye research to prevent sight loss and treat eye disease.

Francie and John James completed their unique challenge in six days, which saw the duo climb the highest mountains in each province in Ireland. To make the challenge even harder they cycled the distance in between.

They climbed Ulster’s mountain Slieve Donard standing at 853 metres high, Mweelrea (819 m) in Connaught, Carrauntoonil (1041m) in Munster (is also the highest in Ireland) and finishing by climbing Lugnaquilla (926m) in Leinster. Collectively they climbed 28 miles and cycled 600 miles.

Their main inspiration was Francie’s grandson and John James’ nephew, Caolan, who inherited a rare and currently incurable eye condition, called Reis Buckler’s corneal dystrophy. The condition also affects Caolan’s dad and causes a cloudiness in the corneas of both eyes, which leads to corneal erosions and ultimately sight loss.

Francie, a former All-Ireland Down Minor football champion, said: “It was a great feeling of satisfaction to complete the challenge. A huge thank you to John James for being by my side. We are both grateful to everyone who has donated. A special thank you to all our friends and family for their love and support over the past months in helping to organise fundraising events to raise funds for Fight for Sight. In particular to my wife, Lorraine Rooney, and John James’ mum, Helen, for being our support team along the way and providing refreshments and motivation.

“The challenge was tough but Caolan faces an even tougher challenge every day and we are extremely proud of him. We will do all we can to help raise funds for eye research, which one day may find a cure for his condition.”

The family have been avid supporters of the charity and in June 2013 the pair hiked 34 miles over Mourne and Cooley mountains and cycled the 51 miles distance in between, in just 24 hours, which gave them the idea for this challenge. The family’s mission is to raise £10k to help prevent Caolan losing his sight by supporting eye research.

John James, who works at the Sainsbury’s store, Newry, and is currently studying at the University of Ulster, added: “It’s a great feeling knowing that we have accomplished such an amazing journey. A huge thank you to everyone for supporting us. A special thank you to Sainsbury for sponsoring the jerseys we wore on the challenge, Xcell Partners for their generous donation and to Paul McKinstry, from the Bike Shak, Banbridge, for the nutritional supplies.”

Caolan’s mum, Elaine Rooney, said: “I’m completely overwhelmed and extremely proud of my dad and cousin for all their support over the past couple of years. I’m in total awe of their efforts for pushing themselves to their limits and helping raise funds for Fight for Sight. The money raised will help support eye research that could help my little boy and everyone else affected by sight loss. Thank you to everyone who has supported them and donated to the charity.”

Catherine Woodhead, Fight for Sight’s Director of Fundraising, said: “Without the generosity of our supporters, it wouldn’t be possible for us to fund pioneering eye research. It’s people like Francie and John James that are dedicated to go the extra mile in order to help us. Well done for completing such a unique challenge and thank you.”

To support Francie, John James and Caolan’s fight against sight loss please donate here