Staff and friends of Saplings School in Mullingar came out in force to support the father of one of their students who ran a tremendous 100km in one day to raise funds for the school and for Irish Autism Action.
Eleven-and-a-half-year-old Ryan Murphy has attended Saplings since 2007 and dad Niall says he’s a happy student there, making great progress.
On Sunday Niall, who lives in Rhode, Offaly with Ryan, wife Noeleen, and their two daughters started running at 8am, and finished more than 11 hours later as the sun went down.
He was joined by over 700 people who signed up to offer their running and walking support in the fundraiser that aimed to make €100,000.
“It looks like we’ll almost make it - so if you know of anyone who’d like to give the fundraising a final push, we’d really appreciate it,” said Niall.
With around 60 per cent of cards in and funds counted, the kitty stands at €55,000 and Niall has his fingers crossed.
One of the teams helping to raise funds was led by Ursula Smyth, principal at Saplings, along with receptionist Trish Hogan and director of education Katrina Duffy, all of whom Niall was heartened to see share his journey.
“It’s hard to see everyone as you’re jogging along and passing people out, but it just lifted my heart to see them,” he said.
Some 70 per cent of the funds raised by the Saplings team will stay with the school, with the remainder going to Irish Autism Action, also based in Mullingar.
The headquarters of the organisation will move to Multyfarnham later this year, thanks to the generosity of the Franciscan friars.
“Saplings transformed Ryan,” said Niall, adding that the school has “brought him on an awful lot”.
Ryan has moderate to severe autism and is non-verbal. He communicates without words and uses pictures, but is learning to write and to understand the alphabet.
“Talking is not a priority, but communication is primary,” said Niall.
Ryan developed as any small child and between the ages of 18 months and two years, had a number of words, like ‘mama’ and ‘dad’a, and ‘Tigger’ and ‘Winnie’, but he lost those as his autism became more severe.
Because of Saplings, Ryan spoke his first words all over again in 2007, a fact that has thrilled his parents.
The autism unit at Milltownpass primary school also had a team raising funds, with captain John Hanlon from Rochfortbridge leading the endeavour that will see 70 per cent of their funds stay with the school.
One of the highlights of the event happened the night before, when Niall was at home with Ryan.
“He’d know I run a lot and he’d see me, but on Saturday night, he picked up my running shoes and handed them to me. It was like he was protecting them, as if he knew something big was happening,” said the proud father.
To support Niall and Saplings School, Mullingar, email [email protected].