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Tommy Bowe joins campaign to help Belfast toddler walk with cross-community event for 'Cavan's First Steps'

'It’s our dream to get Cavan on his feet so he too can enjoy simple things in life, like a walk'

By Claire Williamson

Published 08/04/2016

Young Cavan O'Neill and Tommy Bowe
Young Cavan O'Neill and Tommy Bowe
Emma O'Neill, Tommy Bowe, Cavan and dad Diarmuid O'Neill at the Walk the Walls for Cavan launch
Pictured at the launch of Walk the Walls for Cavan (l-r) Shane Johnson, Tommy Bowe, Emma O'Neill, Cavan and dad Diarmuid O'Neill, Brandon Benedict and Active Communities Network's Head of Programmes NI, Jim Donnelly
Emma O'Neill, Tommy Bowe, Cavan and dad Diarmuid O'Neill at the Walk the Walls for Cavan launch
Pictured at the launch of Walk the Walls for Cavan are Active Communities Network's team of young people, Belfast Giants Brandon Benedict and Shane Johnson, Junior Minister Jennifer McCann, the Lord Mayor, Arder Carson, Ulster Rugby star, Tommy Bowe and the O'Neills.

He's the little boy bringing together both sides of the community - with the help of some famous sporting friends - in a bid to help him walk.

Cavan O'Neill from Belfast suffers a specific kind of cerebral palsy called spastic diplegia that affects his legs, making it difficult for him to walk.

His mum and dad launched the campaign Cavan's First Steps back in October in a bid to raise £80k to get him to America for a vital operation.

Read more:

Can you help little Cavan walk? Belfast two-year-old needs £80k op in US to get onto feet  

A pioneering spinal surgery in St Louis will permanently release Cavan from pain and allow him to walk unaided in all environments by permanently severing the nerves that have caused his tightness.

They have so far raised in excess of £50k of that target edging closer to their target.

Now they are joining forces with Ulster rugby star Tommy Bowe and the Belfast Giants for a cross community Peace Wall walk.

The trail, led by Cavan and his family, will weave its way from New Barnsley down Springfield Road; Lanark Way and Cooper Way, Falls Road and Northumberland Street, Shankill Road before making its way to Belfast City Hall. 

The initiative will not only allow young people participating in Active Communities Network’s programmes to connect by fundraising for the Belfast tot but see them navigate what has long been a barrier synonymous with division and unrest in Northern Ireland.

Cavan’s mum, Emma O’Neill, is hopeful that Walk the Walls and its associated gala ball the night before will allow them to book their trip to St Louis.

She said: “It makes me extremely proud that Cavan, at just two years old, has the ability to bring young people from both sides of the community together. I am overawed by Active Communities Network’s generosity and their enthusiasm to not only raise funds for Cavan but to do so in such a significant way - one which I feel extends beyond just helping my child but the children growing up in Belfast. 

“It’s very fitting that walking is the theme for this event. It’s our dream to get Cavan on his feet so he too can enjoy simple things in life, like a walk and we are certain this will be achieved sooner than we hoped."

Tommy Bowe called the little boy "inspirational".

He said: “I have seen the benefits sports can bring to individuals and the wider community in which they live. I have seen the great work done by the young people involved in Active Communities Network’s programmes and how crucial these activities are for broadening the horizons, raising aspirations and crucially giving them skills and networks to achieve. 

“Walk the Walls is yet another great and active campaign on the ACN agenda. It’s for a great little boy, an amazing cause and I'm delighted to be part of it. What these young people are doing; working together to help Cavan walk is truly inspirational.”

The event, Walk the Walls for Cavan, co-ordinated by Active Communities Network and supported by R City, will take place on Sunday, June 5 at 10am and aims to bring together young people from both sides of the divide, who will put their best foot forward for young Cavan whose family are raising funds for an operation in St Louis, America, that will allow him to walk. 

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