Caro­line Bjo­erk will trek 330km from Clif­den to Dublin in aid of those af­fected by spinal in­juries

Irish Independent - Farming - - Horses - Siob­hán English

THOUGH not re­puted to be the world’s most dan­ger­ous sport, horse rid­ing still claims the lives of count­less rid­ers across the world each year. It is well doc­u­mented that event­ing ranks highly in this group, with ro­ta­tional falls the pri­mary cause of death. For those who do sur­vive, it is es­ti­mated that 25pc of rid­ers are left per­ma­nently dis­abled.

One rider who is eter­nally grate­ful not to have been left paral­ysed, or worse, from a near-catas trophic f al l in Ballindenisk in 2004 is Caro­line Bjo­erk.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” she said, re­flect­ing on the tragic deaths of some of her fel­low in­ter­na­tional com­peti­tors, in­clud­ing Karen Rodgers.

How­ever, she is work­ing hard to over­come an in­jury which cut short her in­ter­na­tional ca­reer.

“It was only 18 months af­ter my fall that I be­gan to get back pain and it be­came so se­vere that I was com­pletely limited in my rid­ing.”

Now, a decade later, Caro­line wants to give some­thing back to the specialist surgeons at Beau­mont Hospi­tal in Dublin, who have helped her go on to live as nor­mal a life as pos­si­ble.

“I feel so lucky to have made such a great re­cov­ery from the prob­lems I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in re­cent years, but it only hap­pened through the ex­tra­or­di­nary work of Pro­fes­sor Ciarán Bol­ger and his team,” she said.

With this in mind, she has or­gan­ised a marathon char­ity walk from Clif­den to Beau­mont Hospi­tal which kicks off on March 23.

“This is my way of show­ing my grat­i­tude and hope­fully the money raised will help many other back pain sufferers through con­tin­ued re­search.”

Caro­line’s fundrais­ing idea was in­spired by jockey JT McNa­mara, who has been left paral­ysed af­ter a fall while rac­ing at Chel­tenham 12 months ago. An­other tragedy that in­flu­enced her de­ci­sion was that of fam­ily friend, Stu­art Man­gan, who died in Au­gust of 2009 fol­low­ing com­pli­ca­tions aris­ing from a spinal in­jury suf­fered while play­ing rugby 12 months ear­lier.


In a kind ges­ture, Stu­art’s fam­ily have do­nated some signed jer­seys to Caro­line, which will be auc­tioned off to con­trib­ute to­wards her goal of rais­ing €50,000. Other fund-rais­ing events have al­ready taken place in re­cent weeks, with some €12,000 alone raised dur­ing a mu­si­cal evening held at Caro­line’s home in Kil­cock, Co Kil­dare.

“So many people suf­fer from chronic back pain that lim­its their lives, so ev­ery­one ben­e­fits from re­search that helps re­lieve the life-al­ter­ing pain and de­bil­i­ta­tion it can cause,” she said.

Al­though the fundrais­ing will be her pri­mary aim, Caro­line is also hop­ing to raise aware­ness for young ath­letes as they strive to make it on to the in­ter­na­tional stage.

“Fit­ness is so im­por­tant for these young ath­letes,” she said, hav­ing her­self seen the ben­e­fits of walk­ing to strengthen her back as she re­cov­ered from nu­mer­ous op­er­a­tions.

“As part of my re­cov­ery, my sur­geon told me to walk as much as pos­si­ble, so I de­cided I would take on this long walk as a chal­lenge to raise this money,” she said.

Caro­line has been in train­ing for sev­eral months now and in the lead up has been walk­ing up to 20 kilo­me­tres three times a week. “I did my first 30-kilo­me­tre walk re­cently, so I am get­ting there.”

En­ti­tled Walk­ing For Those Who Can’t, the 330 kilo­me­tre walk will take Caro­line from Clif­den on March 23 through Connemara, Galway, Oran­more and Craugh­well. From there, she will pass through Loughrea, Bal­li­nasloe, Athlone, Moate, Tyrellspass, Kin­negad, Kil­cock, Leixlip and fi­nally Beau­mont Hospi­tal, Dublin. She hopes to fin­ish on April 5.

“It’s go­ing to be tough, but I am re­ally look­ing for­ward to it and I’d like as many people as pos­si­ble to sup­port this cause and get in­volved.”

Caro­line’s son, Peter, has al­ready vowed to walk much of the way, but people from across the coun­try are in­vited to join in along the route over the two weeks.

The full sched­ule will be avail­able on www.walk­ing­forthose­who­cant.com and also vi a her Face­book page www.face­book.com/pages/ Walk­ing-For-Those-Who-Cant.

Any­one in­ter­ested in mak­ing a do­na­tion to this wor­thy cause can do so by call­ing 018092161.

MU­SI­CAL­ITY: Well-known mu­si­cians Liam O'Flynn (cen­tre), Rod McVey and Neil Martin (on cello) at the re­cent mu­si­cal evening which raised 12,000

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