A Galway man is set to begin a 1,000 mile run around Ireland today Thursday 1 December, to raise funds for a personal development programme for homeless people.
Personal trainer Paul Fallon established the 24-week programme On the Road Again (OTRA) earlier this year and 16 successful participants graduated from the pilot phase at a ceremony presided over by Deputy Mayor of Galway City Cllr Ollie Crowe at the Westwood Hotel on Friday.
OTRA promotes the self-sufficiency of those experiencing homelessness or mental health issues by engaging them in walking and running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem. Funds raised by Paul’s month-long ‘1,000 Mile Run for Home’ will enable the initiative to continue in Galway and in other locations around the country next year.
Paul has stressed that OTRA is not a fitness programme but rather a personal development programme that attempts to empower homeless people to help themselves and to move on with their lives and move out of their current circumstances.
“This programme, although it won’t be for everybody, can definitely reach a lot of people. It can make them stronger. A lot of the remit is just to empower homeless people to do things for themselves,” he said.
The programme is supported by COPE Galway, Galway Diocesan Youth Services, Galway Simon, Jigsaw and St Vincent de Paul and, since it began in June, participants have taken part in events such as the Streets of Galway and the Galway Bay 10K and Half Marathon.
Over the 24 weeks of the programme, participants, who range in age from their early 20s to 63, received state-of-the-art footwear from Amphibian King Oranmore and shoe sponsors Mizuno, advice on low cost nutritional food from volunteer Edwina Deegan, physiotherapy sessions from Physio4U, and life coaching sessions to help them achieve their goals.
Lead by volunteers including Ronnie McLoughlin and Clement Chigaru,
training sessions took place three mornings per week and participants who showed the most dedication were presented with Athlete of the Month Awards at the Westwood Hotel over the course of the programme.
The programme is designed as a stepping stone for those who want to improve their lives and several participants have since returned to education with the help of local support agencies. Programme Director Paul suggests that one of the strengths of OTRA is the structure that it provides, as holding early training sessions gives people a reason to get out of bed in the morning and gives them time to plan their future.
“And not only does the exercise release the endorphins but it’s been proven that feeling stays with you for a period of time so that in itself is very good too,” he said.
He adds that as well as helping participants to feel better, stronger, and more confident, the training regime has also had significant health benefits for those experiencing or at risk of developing conditions like diabetes and heart disease, with one member losing two stone.
Paul also liaised with local health services and the Western Region Drugs Task Force during the course of the programme, as some participants may have experienced substance abuse problems or alcohol addiction and the next round of the programme, which is set to begin in Galway in mid to late January, will incorporate an individual care plan for each member.
Researchers from NUI Galway’s Health Promotion Department, under the guidance of Professor Margaret Barry, are also currently carrying out detailed research into the benefits, both psychological and physical, of the programme. It is hoped that OTRA will be expanded beyond Galway next year and Paul has said that Dublin Simon and homeless services in Dundalk and Limerick have expressed interest in introducing it for service users there.
Paul will begin his ‘1,000 Mile Run for Home’ tomorrow (Thursday 1 December) in a bid to raise €100,000 for OTRA. He will travel through 26 counties before finishing in Galway on New Year’s Eve and is inviting the public to get involved by running or walking a mile with him in Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick, Kilkenny, Athlone, Sligo and Castlebar.
He is also asking politicians and sporting celebrities from different backgrounds to come out and support the run. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.otra.ie or find On the Road Again on Facebook.