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Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards: Giant leap for brave wee fighter Oliver

Award win was huge boost as brave boy takes his first steps.

By Stephanie Bell

Published 15/04/2016

Oliver Dickey with mum Charlene, dad Neil and brother Max. Pic: Colm O'Reilly/Sunday Life.
Oliver Dickey with mum Charlene, dad Neil and brother Max. Pic: Colm O'Reilly/Sunday Life.
Courage: Two years ago Oliver couldn't put his feet on the ground. Pic: Colm O'Reilly/Sunday Life.

He is the little boy who was never expected to walk, but just a few weeks ago seven-year-old Oliver Dickey delighted in dribbling a football for the very first time.

Oliver has to battle every single day with intensive physiotherapy to achieve a goal which the rest of us take for granted, but he is determined to be able to walk, run and play like his friends.

It was this strong spirit which saw him nominated by admiring members of the public from all over Northern Ireland for last year’s Specsavers Overcoming Adversity award at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards.

Nominations for this year’s awards are now open and you can nominate someone special by emailing us at spiritofniawards@sundaylife.co.uk or using the form below.

Born with cerebral palsy and confined to life in a wheelchair, little Oliver stood tall as he walked on to our stage in the Culloden Hotel with the help of a walking frame to collect his trophy.

The Coleraine child was 18 months old when he was diagnosed with spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy. His parents were told he would never be able to walk and faced life in a wheelchair.

His mum Charlene heard about pioneering surgery in America which would give her son the chance to walk and launched an appeal to try and raise the money to cover the huge costs.

Charlene set up the Help Wee Oliver Walk Appeal hoping to raise £50,000 and was astonished when people took Oliver to their hearts and donated an incredible £110,000.

It meant Oliver was able to undergo the procedure known as selective dorsal rhizotomy at St Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri in July 2014.

Immediately after the surgery he was able to walk with the aid of a frame. For his family it was a miracle and for Oliver it has been life changing.

Oliver faces five days of therapy every week to strengthen his muscles and improve his ability to walk. He was rewarded for his hard work earlier this year when he was able to bend down for the first time and dribble a football without any walking aids.

His mum Charlene says: “Oliver gets intensive physio in Scotland four times a year for a week and it is there where all his major milestones have been achieved and where he took his first steps unaided.

“When we were there in January he was able to bend down and pick up a toy from the floor and that was one of the things he has always wanted to be able to do.

Oliver Dickey with Snow Patrol front man Gary Lightbody at last year's awards.
Oliver Dickey with Snow Patrol front man Gary Lightbody at last year's awards.

“In February the therapist had him dribbling a football. He has also been able to switch from using a tripod to crutches which was a big thing for him as he said it makes him look just like a wee boy with sore legs rather than someone who can’t walk.

“When you see him in his wee football kit he looks like all the other boys. He is taking his first steps around the house unaided and that’s our goal — that he will be able to walk around school unaided.

“It is just unbelievable the change from this time two years ago when he couldn’t put his feet on the ground.

“If we hadn’t taken him to America we would be sitting here with a wee boy in a wheelchair. Two years ago he was crawling round like a baby and now he is walking. Oliver is so determined and works very hard and never complains. Every wee milestone means the world and he is very confident and outgoing and enjoys school.”

Oliver works hard to continue to build his strength and has found that growth spurts can set him back and has to work extra hard to maintain his progress while growing.

He has also started a new frame football class every Saturday morning in Belfast which allows him to play football with other kids who also rely on walking frames.

As a football fan, a highlight of his night at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers was the chance to meet and have his picture taken with members of the Northern Ireland football team.

In what was a very special night for Oliver, his parents said winning the award helped to boost Oliver and make him even more determined to continue his therapy towards his goal of walking without any aids.

Charlene says: “Just to be nominated, never mind win, was a complete honour and to be chosen over all the other people who were in his category was also amazing.

Oliver with Tony McGinn of Specsavers and The Fall star Bronagh Waugh after being presented with his award.
Oliver with Tony McGinn of Specsavers and The Fall star Bronagh Waugh after being presented with his award.

“Oliver loved it, he felt really special. It felt to him like a reward for all his hard work. He brought the trophy into school and was so proud showing it to everyone.

“My big memory of the night was him walking on to the dance floor determined to dance with Gary Lightbody, who all these girls were trying to dance with.

“It is a fantastic night and completely inspirational, the stories you hear about other people are just unbelievable.”

Spirit of NI Award categories

Unsung Hero

Someone whose great deed or deeds have previously gone unnoticed, but who will have made a major contribution to your life or to your community.

Overcoming Adversity

Someone who has overcome huge personal challenges, whether it is dealing with illness or disability or overcoming problems.

Spirit of Youth

Someone under the age of 18 who should be recognised for their special achievements.

999 Hero

A member of the emergency services who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in their job.

Charity Champion

Someone who has worked tirelessly for a charity or as a fundraiser for many years.

Spirit of Health

A medical professional who has gone the extra mile to improve the health and wellbeing of their patients.

Spirit of Education

This award recognises a truly inspirational teacher who has helped children and young people to fulfil their potential.

Caring Spirit Award

A person, young or old, who has dedicated their time to caring for a friend or family member.

Spirit of Sport

Someone who has made an exceptional contribution to local sport over a number of years. 

Overall Spirit of Northern Ireland Award

Someone who the judges feel best represents the Spirit of Northern Ireland by selflessly serving others and being an inspiration to us all.

 - There are 10 awards in total. You can nominate an unsung hero via the form on this page, which will be available in Specsavers stores, or email your nomination to spiritofniawards@sundaylife.co.uk. Closing date for nominations is Friday April 22.

>> Click here to download the entry form <<

- The Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers grand final will be at held at the Culloden Estate and Spa on Friday, May 27. All the finalists will be invited to the glittering awards ceremony, which will include entertainment, celebrity guests and will be shown on UTV.

- Tickets for the gala awards ceremony cost £60, which includes dinner, table wine and the top class entertainment, can be purchased from JPR, Sylvan House, 232-240, Belmont Office Park, Belfast, BT4 2AW; by phone at 028 9076 0066 or e-mailing: mail@jprni.com

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