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Guardian angels of bike racing on crusade born of personal tragedy

Sport salutes bereaved trio's aid for injured riders

By Paul Lindsay

Published 20/02/2016

Grateful: beneficiary Jamie Hamilton with his racing trophy collection
Grateful: beneficiary Jamie Hamilton with his racing trophy collection
Sheila Sinton (left) and Jan Simm of the Injured Riders Welfare Fund collect a cheque for £4,561.90 from Stephen Henderson and Mike Shaw of RPS and Stephen Thompson who was injured in a crash at last year's North West 200. The money was raised at the Cornmarket Irish Motorcyclist of the Year awards

Motorcycle racing by its very nature is a precarious sport, with inherent dangers part of thrill and excitement for competitors and fans alike. There's a fine line between success and failure and every rider who has stood, arms aloft on a podium top step, has undoubtedly been gathered from a hedge or gravel trap at some point in their career.

For a small minority, operating in the higher echelons of the sport, insurance policies and salary guarantees soften the blow when a hospital visit is called upon, followed by short-term or lengthy lay-offs.

But for the privateer racer in Ireland - many of whom are self-employed with dependants - the struggle begins before they even leave a circuit after an unscheduled injury.

It's at this point that they realise how important unsung heroines Yvonne Ward, Sheila Sinton and Jan Simm are about to become in their lives.

The trio are the driving forces behind the Injured Riders' Welfare Fund, set up in 2003 to provide instant, red tape free funding to riders and their families, when the unthinkable happens.

Supported purely by voluntary donations and fund-raising events, the three-strong Injured Riders' Welfare Fund management team, have paid out donations well into six figures since its inception.

So despite being long overdue, albeit unexpected by the trio, the Injured Riders' Welfare Fund has been honoured for its selfless contributions to the sport of motorcycling - picking up the Noonan Services to Sport accolade at the gala black tie Cornmarket Motorbike Awards in January.

Speaking on behalf of her compatriots, Jan Simm said: "It came as a total shock on the night. I think Yvonne and I were the only people in the 500 strong audience who didn't know, but it was amazing to receive the award on behalf of everyone who has helped us over the years."

It will come as no surprise to learn that all three woman have been touched by the darker side of pure road racing - Jan's giveaway is the #5 necklace hanging around her neck and the same inscription lovingly inked onto her right wrist.

It's in honour of her fallen partner Eddie Sinton, who sadly lost his life in a crash at the now defunct Carrowdore 100 back in the Millennium year.

Sheila Sinton is Eddie's mother and was present that dark day on the Ards Peninsula while Yvonne Ward is the widow of Steve Ward, killed whilst competing at Anderstorp in Sweden back in 1996.

Yvonne has been around racing longer than she cares to remember, but humbly said of the Fund's success: "The more we give out, the more we seem to get back in."

Thankfully for the hard-working trio, those who have been touched by their generosity usually reciprocate with fund raising events, and recognition within the sport has also seen some large donations.

"We received £4,561.90 this year from ballot donations at the Cornmarket Motorbike Awards, which is just amazing and so much appreciated," explained Jan. "In the past two seasons we have paid out over £17,000 per season, so support like that is invaluable."

The beauty of the Fund is that there is no criteria to qualify for financial support - there are no application forms and no one gets overlooked.

The 'Fairy Godmothers' of the race track simply keep up to date with all events on the island of in Ireland and also keep a close eye on local racers competing abroad.

"We don't just look after Irish riders," explained Yvonne, who had a jovial tale to tell of German racer Manfred Vogl. "Manfred fell off at Tandragee a few years ago and has told everyone since, 'Yvonne is the only woman who has ever wanted to give me money; most just want to spend it for you!"

With support having been offered to hundreds of riders over the years, Jan was quick to spread the credit far and wide for the Fund's success, also explaining how it has helped up-and-coming riders by offering support to make their entry to racing much safer.

"We have a sponsored walk the week before the Cookstown 100 and it not only raises money, but allows us to pair up newcomers with experienced riders. So as well as friendships being formed, the newcomers are gaining valuable knowledge of the circuits," she explained.

Speaking of the support they give, neither Jan nor Yvonne would single out anyone in particular, simply stating in unison: "When we look around the paddock these days it's hard to see someone we haven't helped.

"But the nice thing is most people don't know what we do until they need us," added Jan, who has also taken on the Welfare Officer's role within the governing body of the sport.

Winning awards was never on the agenda when the Injured Riders' Welfare Fund was set up almost 13 years ago, but recognition cannot be bought; it must be earned. Something Jan Simm, Sheila Sinton and Yvonne Ward have done in abundance.

Belfast Telegraph

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