A well-worn trail marks Cathal Freeman's garden marathon route.
A well-worn trail marks Cathal Freeman's garden marathon route. 

Freeman's garden marathon fundraiser a blooming success

By John Harrington

Mayo county hurler Cathal Freeman’s body is sore today but his heart is full.

The 29-year-old successfully ran a marathon distance of 42km around a small 30-metre loop of his garden yesterday while soloing a sliotar to raise money for the Irish Cancer Society and PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for HSE (Health Service Executive) staff.

So far he’s raised over €53,000 and counting, which has gone a long way to dulling the aches and pains left by his considerable exertions.

“It's a tough station now this morning, I won't lie!” Freeman told GAA.ie today.

“But, no, it's all good. It's been helped along by all the well-wishes and the money that's being raised. I can't be complaining too much.

“So far it's raised over €53,000 which is a mad amount of money. The initial goal was €1,000 and that very quickly went to €5,000 and then very quickly went to €10,000. We left it at €20,000, but the roof has been blown off that.”

Freeman is a medical student in UL and in a spur of the moment decision sent out a tweet last week promising to run the marathon while soloing a sliotar around a small area of grass outside his student residence if his tweet was retweeted over 2,000 times.

I didn’t take long for that number to be reached, and Freeman was faced with the task of completing a feat of athleticism that most people train six months for when they attempt it for the first time.

Factor in the considerable extra degree of difficulty of soloing a sliotar on a hurley for the duration, and it’s fair to say the Mayo man had set the bar high for himself.

“Obviously I train a lot for hurling but I've probably only ever run four or five kilometres on an average evening and it would be mainly sprints and that kind of stuff,” says Freeman.

“I'd never go running for pleasure. I've a housemate, Sean, who would pop off and run 10 or 15k of an evening for leisure. I'd often look at him and go, 'What are you doing? How could you possibly do that for fun?!'

“Before yesterday, 10k was the most I ever ran in one sitting, so to speak.”

In the end it took him seven hours to complete the 42 kilometre course and there were moments when the going was as hard mentally as it was physically.

He was never going to let all his many backers down, though, and was given great encouragement along the way by a Mayo GAA TV live stream of the run that featured colour commentary from the likes of Mayo footballer Lee Keegan and Kilkenny hurler Tommy Walsh.

“At different stages it was tough going,” admits Freeman. “The hips, and groins and all that were caving in, slowly but surely.

“But I was brilliantly supported by all the well-wishers and the commentary. I tuned in to the commentators every now and again and they kept my spirit up by keeping the craic going.

“When you have that many people supporting you and getting behind you then it's very hard to just give up.

“There was no land-speed record broken, but I would have stayed out there all night to ensure that it was finished because so many people have rowed in behind this.

“There was no grand plan when this idea was hatched when I was sitting at my desk. The way people have gotten behind it from friends and family members to complete strangers that I've never met has been inspirational.

“The good-will, the great messages, and, most importantly the donations of money, have all been incredible and gave me a huge lift while I was going around yesterday.”

His shoulders and back are as sore as his legs are today thanks to the added challenge of soloing a sliotar for over seven hours, but the focus required to keep the ball on his hurley diminished the drudgery of running the same loop of grass over and over again.

“I think that was part of the benefit of soloing the sliotar, actually, it gave me something to concentrate on all the time,” says Freeman.

“It was probably a double-edged sword. It benefited me because it gave me something to concentrate on which took away from the pain I'm feeling, but it also increased the time I was out there for.

“I'd like to think I'd have ran it a lot quicker if I hadn't being soloing a ball. It was interesting, lets say.

“I'd say the groundskeepers around here won't be too happy with me when they see what I've done. That track I made won't be coming out any time soon!”

The considerable amount of money he has raised should also make a lasting impact.

The PPE it will purchase for front-line health service staff could very well save a few lives.

As a medical student himself, Freeman has huge empathy for the manner in which our healthcare system workers are putting their own health on the line to protect everyone else’s.

“I'm lucky in the sense that I've a number of friends who are working in the healthcare system in a number of different roles,” he says.

“Just being in touch with them and understanding the risk that they're putting themselves at, the risk that they take and the struggles and pressures that they feel, it gave me a clear insight into what this is actually like on the front-line.

“They're doing such a fantastic job on all of our behalves so it's important that we provide them with the absolute necessities to do their job in terms of PPE.

“As they fight this fight for us, we have to ensure that they're protected and safe so that when they go home in the evenings they're not going to be worrying about their own health.”

The money raised that will go to the Irish Cancer Society will also make a big impact at a time when traditional means of fund-raising are made more difficult by the current lock-down.

“I'm absolutely grateful to the work that the Irish Cancer Society do on a day to day basis,” says Freeman. “In the current climate, no more than a huge amount of other charities, the impact of this crisis has made fund-raising difficult.”

“It's just something that would be very close to my heart because I'd have a lot of family members who have been afflicted by cancer. Cancer has touched every single one of us I'd imagine in some way over the years.”

The GAA community has led by example during the current health crisis and has once agin rallied impressively to Freeman’s cause.

His club Toorreen and Mayo GAA have led the charge, even if at times those who know him best have taken the opportunity to slag him as much as encourage him!

“I'd have a bad name for not finishing training sessions, I've had a number of hamstring injuries over the years,” says Freeman.

“A lot of the lads were giving me a lot of slagging by saying if I finished the marathon it would be the first time I ever finished a session!

“Ah no, the boys are incredibly supportive. Both the Tooreen and Mayo WhatsApp groups have been hopping with well wishes. I'm getting texts wishing me well and donations as well from all of my team-mates.

“I'm getting plenty of slagging about being on the Six One news. They reckon I'll be on Strictly Come Dancing next!”

Now that he’s proven he can run a marathon in difficult circumstances and with no proper training, presumably Freeman will be happy to tag along the next time his house-mate Sean goes for a run?

“I will absolutely tell him, 'Good luck!'”, laughs Freeman. “I'll be staying on the couch and watching Netflix!”

He’s earned it.

You can donate to Cathal Freeman’s fund-raiser HERE.