Family’s dream comes true after 100km challenge

By Aideen O'Flaherty

OVER 100 runners raised €8,000 for the development of a sensory room for a Kilnamanagh schoolboy who has autism, making a family’s “dream come true”.

The runners clocked up 100k each throughout January as part of the Run for Rita event, which has been held every year since 2014 in memory of local woman Rita Savage, who passed away from breast cancer in 2008.

Vanessa and Glenda in Tymon on Saturday 1

Leon’s mother Vanessa with Glenda Curtis, organiser of Run for Rita in Tymon on Saturday February 6

The event is typically held in Tymon Park every March, and last year it was all set to raise funds for a sensory room for nine-year-old Kilnamanagh boy Leon Hughes.

Leon is non-verbal, and has autism and a sensory processing disorder. Sensory rooms offer a variety of soothing activities for children who are on the autism spectrum or have additional needs.

Leon’s parents, Vanessa and Luke Hughes, didn’t have room for a sensory room in their house, so they planned to purchase a log cabin to put in their back garden, and kit it out with things like bubble tubes, a projector and a sensory bean bag with the funds raised at the event last year.

However, Run for Rita had to be cancelled at the last minute as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

This year, Glenda Curtis, Rita Savage’s daughter and the organiser of Run for Rita, decided to hold the event virtually and earlier in the year to secure the funds for Leon’s sensory room – and she’s been blown away by the response.

Run for Rita concluded in Tymon Park on Saturday, where a socially distanced gathering of people including Glenda, her sister, some family friends and the Hughes family, finished their 100k challenge, and released balloons at Rita’s bench.

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Leon and Vanessa at the finish line in Tymon Park

“Over 100 people took part in the 100k challenge, and many more donated,” she told The Echo.

“All in all, we’re after raising €8,000. I’m a little bit overwhelmed. Every year it gets me that people want to take part in Run for Rita.

“Especially with this year and Covid, there are so many online fundraising events...so for people to get behind Run for Rita again this year was a big thing.

“The community really got on board. It’s just been brilliant.”

Vanessa and Leon finishing the challenge in Tymon Park on Saturday 1

Leon delighted to finish the challenge on Saturday

The donations will be used to pay off part of a loan that Leon’s parents took out to purchase the log cabin last year, and also to fully kit it out with all manner of sensory equipment.

Leon’s mam, Vanessa, told The Echo: “The support of the community has been phenomenal. This will improve Leon’s quality of life considerably.

“This is something we’ve always wanted to do for him, and I don’t know what we would’ve done without the support of Run for Rita.”

She added: “We want the sensory room to be like the one he has in school. Once he goes into a sensory room, the difference in him is unbelievable – his anxiety levels drop down to nearly zero.”

Vanessa added that the sensory room will make a difference to the entire Hughes family, including her husband Luke and their teenage children Reece and Mischa.

“Thank you to all of the people who supported us,” she said. “You’ve all been wonderful – you’ve made a family’s dream come true.”

The sensory equipment will be installed in the coming weeks, and Glenda added that the results of a raffle for all those who donated will be put up on the Run for Rita Facebook page by the end of the week.

Looking ahead, Glenda said: “Please God next year we’ll be back to some normality, and Run for Rita will be back in Tymon Park.”

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