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Hundreds help brave Michaela finish unique marathon in memory of sister

By Lesley Houston

Published 22/06/2015

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin (fourth from left) is among hundreds of people joining Michaela Hollywood (centre) as she completes the final mile of her marathon at Stormont yesterday
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin (fourth from left) is among hundreds of people joining Michaela Hollywood (centre) as she completes the final mile of her marathon at Stormont yesterday

A woman with a muscle wasting disease has revealed how the death of her sister from the same genetic disorder aged just 14 inspired her to complete a wheelchair marathon.

Michaela Hollywood covered 26 gruelling miles yesterday as she hit the streets of Belfast in a marathon event to raise funds for others just like her.

The Co Down woman, who has a type of muscular dystrophy, took on the challenge in her wheelchair.

With determination and the assistance of family and friends, the 25-year-old Masters student  from Crossgar, Co Down, raised more than £3,000 for Muscular Dystrophy UK — easily surpassing her target of £2,600.

Michaela was born with spinal muscular atrophy, which claimed the life of her sister Martina aged just 14 — a memory that motivated her to fulfil her lifelong marathon ambition.

“Part of the reason I did it was because of my sister Martina,” she said.

“She died in January 1997 when she was almost 15.

“I was only six when she died but part of the reason for today was because it’s important to recognise this.

“So this was for her today too.

“It was so worth it, every single mile.

“I had to be pushed the last five miles and the very last mile up Stormont hill was really tough for everyone. But I think the last mile was the special one — it was so worth it.”

Starting at Stormont, the University of Ulster student set off in her motorised chair accompanied by friends and a few local celebrities.

They included boxer Paddy Barnes, TV presenters Sara Clarke and Pamela Ballentine, and Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, whose numbers swelled her party of supporters to 200 at times.

Her expected eight-hour journey was going smoothly until technology failed and part of one of the chair’s four batteries packed up — a hiccup she tweeted to well-wishers following her progress online.

But it wasn’t long though before she was back on her way through Belfast.

The event also attracted a number of other wheelchair users suffering a range of disabilities. “We started at Stormont and finished at Stormont and it went really well,” Michaela said.

“I had a lot of family and friends who pushed me and even my GP, and it was going really well until one of the terminals broke on the spare batteries and I had to be pushed the last part.”

Michaela is now considering keeping the momentum going with some type of annual event.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat,” she said.

“But maybe not a full marathon though, but something to keep it going.”

Michaela, who is studying PR and communications, said she wanted to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy UK as the charity had “been there at every stage for my family”.

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