Ireland will be well represented during the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon when four Irish runners living in New York City, take on this big challenge on Nov 3.

Three of the participants are first-time marathoners and all four are first-time fundraisers with the added task of raising funds for a charity.

Killian Barnwell, from Dublin, Katie McInerney, County Clare, Mike Cliffe, Waterford, and Shay Grimley, from Armagh, representing the four corners of Ireland, have all signed up with Achilles International an activities-based non-profit organization working with adults and children with disabilities. They will all run for Achilles with a commitment to raise a minimum of $3,000 each for the charity.

Killian Barnwell, (27), a bartender from Dublin, has been in New York since 2015 dividing his time between Brooklyn and Manhattan. While he grew up playing rugby for St. Mary’s College and ran track for a couple of years, he has never run long distance before. He became inspired by watching the daily activity of typical New Yorkers running in Central Park and his local Prospect Park. After the chance to watch finishers at the 2017 New York City Marathon, Killian’s enthusiasm peaked and he vowed to “do this!” and make the huge transition from spectator to participant.

Killian Barnwell.

Killian Barnwell.

Another aspiring first-time marathoner, Katie McInerney (25), from County Clare, grew up playing camogie and never imagined four years after moving to Weehawken in New Jersey she would be training to compete in the biggest race in the world! Katie bartends in New York City and began running in summer 2018 to “get fit” and help reduce the stresses of her work and everyday life in the city.

“It made me feel great because I was progressing every day.”

Katie McInerney.

Katie McInerney.

Katie was equally encouraged to challenge herself further after watching others in her neighborhood running and training hard. She signed up for the 2018 Popular Brooklyn Half, which she completed in a very respectable 2:10 hrs. What kept Katie going and motivated as she struggled towards the end of the race was seeing Achilles athlete Anthony Butler, who is blind, running with a tether alongside his guides and being cheered on by the enthusiastic crowds as he passed her with just 800 meters to go.

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“I kept stopping and going. I was struggling so bad. The crowds were cheering Anthony on so much it kept me going. I was tearing up and I finished running right behind him.”

When she was ready to take on the full marathon, she did so with Achilles to support their mission, which is to focus on “ability” and “achievement” rather than the person’s disability. Achilles has chapters around the world, including Achilles Ireland, which was created in 2017.

Katie is one of over 70 runners with the Achilles Charity Team running and raising funds for the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon. This is the non-profit’s largest Charity Teams to date.

Katie hopes to finish the race in 4:30 hours.

Mike Cliffe (37), a sales engineer, from Waterford, moved to New York City in February 2018 and is now living in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. He grew up playing football and hurling only getting into running about eight years ago. While this will be Mike’s fourth marathon, it is his first as a charity runner. Mike previously guided Corvin Bazgan, a deaf/blind runner, in the 2019 Boston Marathon. It was during this race that Mike heard about Achilles and the “Irish connection.” He decided to get involved, quickly reaching his fundraising goal admitting to ,“shaming folks with too much money into contributing…. especially those I support along the way.” Since donating to a charity is tax-deductible, he added: “April is a great time to go asking!”

Newlyweds Mike and Penny Cliffe.

Newlyweds Mike and Penny Cliffe.

Mike admits to being “almost too social for running.” Tough discipline such as watching diet and training several times a week wasn’t easy and Mike often avoided them.

“Living for the weekends means hangovers and lie-ins and more days off than I planned as well as poor recovery practices.”

That was in the past. Maybe it was that New York aspiration that helped change all this?

“This time around,” Mike adds, “I actually stopped drinking, which my legs are really thanking me for. I popped home for a great run – The Medieval Half Marathon - in Kilkenny the weekend of September 14th and ended up 3rd overall male!”

Guiding an athlete with a disability changed Mike’s attitude and practices in a big way.

“It made me think about my wasted ability and taught me to make more use of my unrealized potential. It helped put (my) training struggle into perspective.”

Mike hopes to finish the marathon in sub-3 hours.

Shay Grimley (26), a Software Developer and Engineer with First Derivatives Company, moved to New York from Armagh City in April 2016. Shay’s athletics background is in Gaelic Football, playing for Armagh Harps most of his life. Upon moving to New York he joined Manhattan Gaels winning last year’s Junior Championship. Shay was introduced to Achilles through a friend and joined as a guide for Achilles Kids volunteering at their Saturday morning workouts in Central Park.

Shay Grimley.

Shay Grimley.

Inspired by how well the kids were doing at the workouts, Shay soon decided to sign up for the marathon, building up his fitness and training routines, adding longer runs with “some stretching, foam rolling and a balanced diet”.

Shay’s advice for anyone else thinking of doing this: “Just go for it. Anyone can run/walk a marathon. I’m a big believer in pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. The long-term benefits are worth the temporary discomfort.”

Shay also hopes to finish in under four hours.

This year, Achilles has over 320 athletes with disabilities and their guides participating in the marathon. Members come from around the U.S. and throughout different parts of Europe and as far afield as New Zealand, Japan, Mongolia, and South Africa.

Achilles Charity Runners like Killian, Katie, Mike, and Shay raise funds to help pave the way for members to compete against able-bodied runners in the New York City Marathon. Achilles is all about achievement and empowering people with disabilities. It is about making disability mainstream.

Irish-American athlete, “Backwards” Bill Reilly (67) from Queens NY, will complete his 48th marathon with Achilles this November. Bill has cerebral palsy, a disorder that limits his ability to control his movements and speech. He propels himself forward by pushing backwards with the use of his feet in a specially designed wheelchair, which has no brakes or steering device. (Hence the name “Backwards Bill”) He has guides on each side and is often recognized at races receiving huge support from the cheering crowds.

At Achilles, the motto is: “All things are possible.”

That same unstoppable spirit has followed the Irish through generations of athletic achievement.

There was a time when the Irish dominated the world of running, in particular during the 1970s and 1980s with such great names as John Tracey, Eamonn Coghlan, Neil Cusack, Peter Maher, and Marcus O’Sullivan. Cusack is the first Irish runner to win the Boston Marathon in 1974 with an incredible time of 2:13:39. He went on to win the Dublin Marathon twice. Eamonn Coghlan ran the NYC Marathon in 1991 and again in 2002 (the latter as a charity entrant).
In a few short weeks, Killian Barnwell, Katie McInerney, Mike Cliffe, and Shay Grimley will continue the legacy of Irish runners, fulfilling their dreams and holding the dreams of others in their hearts as they head to the finish line. It can be a life-changing experience. It is always inspiring with an immense sense of achievement. For these runners, there will be the added sense of fulfillment knowing they have raised funds for an important cause.

Dick Traum and Bill Rodgers at 1976 NYC Marathon.

Dick Traum and Bill Rodgers at 1976 NYC Marathon.

After they each cross the finish line on November 3rd and celebrate with family and friends, there is that all-important question: “What’s next?” Running marathons can be addictive!

On Sunday, Nov 1, 2020, the New York City Marathon celebrates its 50th Anniversary

For more information on Achilles International and how to be a Charity Runner in the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon, please contact: fmckinney@achillesinternational.org or www.achillesinternational.org For information on Achilles Ireland please contact Elizabeth Cooney @ lizecooney318@gmail.com.

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The 2017 Achilles Team including Backwards Bill Reilly.