Sunday, June 16, 2024


DAMIEN Cunningham is preparing to travel to one of the most hostile environments in the world for a cause very close to home.

The Ballymartin man is taking part in the Antarctic Ice Marathon to raise funds for Cancer Fund for Children, whose services include Daisy Lodge, near Newcastle.

The 58-year-old sets off for Antarctica this Friday but before he went, he called at Daisy Lodge to see the incredible facilities the short break therapeutic centre provides for families affected by cancer.
“It is a much-needed service and the people there do a fantastic job,” he said.
“Cancer Fund for Children is an amazing charity, and I am honoured to be helping to raise funds for it.

“I was inspired to take on the marathon challenge to help highlight the fantastic work that the charity does and how it is supporting children, young people and their families affected by cancer.”

Damien is an Electrical Engineering Test Technician at Collins Aerospace in Kilkeel and indeed this year marks 40 years of employment there. Fittingly the Collins Aerospace charity of the year for 2023 is Cancer Fund for Children.

Damien’s goal is to raise as much money as he can by taking on one of the world’s toughest marathon challenges.

He will be running in temperatures of around minus 20 degrees and the temperate could well drop much further than that.

Damien is no stranger to marathon running.

He caught the running bug in 2004 when he completed the relay event in the Belfast marathon with colleagues from work.

A couple of years later he completed his first full marathon and the event in Antarctica will be his 54th marathon.

Completing the challenge will also mean he has run a marathon on all seven continents.

Previous marathons have included New York, Boston, Chicago, London, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, the Great Wall of China and Tokyo.

In September he completed the Sydney Marathon and having completed a marathon on six of the world’s continents it was time to switch his focus to making it seven out of seven.

And he kept the toughest to last.

To prepare for the unique challenge of running in such extreme cold, Damien has been training in a commercial freezer in Kilkeel.

He explained that this has been invaluable as it has enabled him to test the gear and equipment he will be using during the run and to make some vital tweaks.

To help prepare for running on snow, he has also been training on the sand at Murlough National Nature Reserve.

While the marathon on the Great Wall of China was arduous, with temperatures of around 35 degrees, and lots of climbing, the Antarctic Ice Marathon will be even tougher.

“It could be snowing, and the wind is the biggest factor. If it picks up it could be minus 30 or minus 40 degrees.”

The equipment he wears will be crucial to ward off the risk of frostbite.

Damien will fly from Dublin to Madrid this Friday (8 December), and on to Santiago, the capital of Chile.

From there he travels to the southern tip of Chile, in Auntas Arenas, and finally Damien and the other runners will take a four-and-a-half-hour flight to reach the Antarctic Peninsula, where the plane will land on a naturally occurring blue-ice runway.

Whether the marathon goes ahead as scheduled next Wednesday (13 December) all depends on the weather and if it is too bad the competitors will stay in Chile until it improves enough.

It is the middle of summer in Antarctica so there will be 24 hours of daylight.

The marathon course is a series of loops, which means competitors will be able to refuel or change their clothing if they need to.

It’s unlike any other marathon he has run before so it’s very hard for Damien to know how long it will take before he crosses the finish line.

“It could be between five and a half and six hours but I could be totally wrong in that,” he said.

“But it won’t be fast!”

With the run itself just a week away, he is looking forward to the challenge ahead.

“It has been two years in the planning. I didn’t want to finish (the challenge of running a marathon on every continent) in Australia, I wanted to finish in Antarctica.

“It is the final continent, the final frontier.
“I am excited to get started and to get at it.” Damien would like to thank all his fellow runners for their help and above all everyone who has supported his fundraising, especially Kevin Boden and Michelle Mulholland.

A collection for Damien’s fundraising for Cancer Fund for Children is being held at ASDA in Kilkeel on 24 December.

And you can also donate by visiting his JustGiving
page: cunningham-marathonfundraising

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