Olympian Rob Heffernan and Joey Corbett launching Challenge 21. Photo: Darragh Kane

Ready for this challenge?

Get ready as Challenge 21 is returning to Cork next month.

Irish champion race walker and Olympian Rob Heffernan is calling on people to join him on the fun and rewarding fitness challenge this summer, in aid of the Down Syndrome Centre Cork.

Participants will walk, jog or run a 21km distance from Haulbowline to Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday 18 June.

The 21km symbolises the extra chromosome that causes the genetic condition that is Down Syndrome.

Funds raised will go to supporting vital services for children with Down Syndrome in Cork.

The centre, which supports more than 150 children and their families, is wholly reliant on the generosity of the public and local businesses to stay in operation.

Organiser of the event Cian Desmond, whose daughter Freya uses the service, said: “It’s in aid of the Down Syndrome Centre Cork charity based On Forge Hill. We provide critical early intervention services for over 150 kids with Down Syndrome in the Cork region, so children with Down Syndrome have got a world of opportunity in front of them but to reach those opportunities they need to have specialist intervention services helping them to talk, to walk, to move and keep up with their peers.”

Commenting on how reliant they are on the centre, Cathy Halpin, said: “My son Finn was born during lockdown (May 2020). It was a time of immense fear of the unknown, worries about his health and his development.

“When I came across the Down Syndrome Centre Cork I couldn’t believe how lucky and fortunate we were, to have this facility in Cork.”

Cathy continued: “We started online physio and got access to additional Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) for Finn.

“Most importantly I got to meet other parents who I could share my worries and concerns with and also share Finn’s milestones and successes.”

Cathy added: “It’s hard to describe how invaluable this support network is to parents of children with Down Syndrome.

“When restrictions lifted it opened up another world for us again with in-person occupational therapy, SLT and physio, but more importantly kids get to meet other children, which encourages and supports their social development.”

“That’s why services and centres like this are more essential than ever as they help children to thrive,” Cathy concluded.

The route follows the proposed greenway along Cork Harbour through Shanbally, Monkstown, Passage, Rochestown and on to Blackrock.

The challenge, which is sponsored by Green Rebel Marine, is the equivalent distance of a half marathon, will take approximately 3 to 4 hours at a brisk walking pace.

There will be plenty of support with water stations, toilet facilities, plenty of snacks and stewards along the route.

Commenting at the launch of Challenge 21, elite athlete Rob Heffernan, said: “I’m delighted to get to combine my love for activity and all things Cork in aid of the Down Syndrome Centre Cork, which is a truly fantastic charity. I have been to visit the centre on many occasions and continue to be impressed with the facilities and the services and moreover am absolutely amazed by what a group of determined parents can do.”

Rob added: “They receive no government funding and are so passionate about providing the best start in life for their children which as a Dad myself really struck a chord.

“I hope others will come out and join me on the day and get behind this fundraising effort as best as they can.”

Last year more than 300 family, friends and supporters of children who rely on the services of the centre took part.

For 2023, they are hoping the wider public will get on board by sponsoring, participating, or donating.