It's fitting that the Belfast Telegraph Woman Of The Year Awards at the Ramada Hotel, Shaw’s Bridge, Belfast are held in midwinter, for we're celebrating the kind of women whose lives and actions lighten the darkness.
And our overall Woman of the Year 2012, Kate Richardson (22), certainly does that.
The tale of how this Portadown woman set out with five other women in a rowing boat to conquer the Atlantic and raise funds for anti-human traffick campaign Row for Freedom is inspiring.
Twelve months ago, she was about to undertake the Transatlantic Woodvale Challenge, rowing from the Canary Islands to Barbados from December 5 to January 24. The teaching assistant had to undergo rigorous training as only the fittest survive this challenge.
Her team of five intrepid women tackled what's known as the most dangerous rowing race in the world with real gumption.
Was she tempted to quit?
“I was tempted to give up all the time, but you go into survival mode and find a willpower. Human trafficking is so awful I thought if these people are going through that I can do this.”
But it was worth it, not just for a place in nautical history books but to fight the rise in human trafficking that supplies the sex industry and forced labour market.
She added: “We were determined to become the first all-female crew to complete the race, and reached fourth position when we finally arrived in Barbados after 45 days, even though we left two days behind the other teams.”
Christmas 2011 was different for Kate. Although there were extra rations, the treat was speaking to parents Mark and Marina, and to sister Kerry on Christmas Day. What kept Kate going throughout this journey was her character, and her faith. A member of the Celebration Church in Portadown, its support was vital.
And there were practical difficulties: “Our equipment broke down, and two days before Christmas Eve our water maker broke.”
She didn't want to let anybody down, including the charity for which she raised £70,000 to date “and money is still coming in”.
Kate's bravery and sheer grit tell us something about Northern Irish women in general and this young woman in particular.
As Charlotte Elliott, Regional People Manager for Asda NI, said: “Everyone at Asda is delighted that Kate Richardson was honoured as the Belfast Telegraph’s Woman of the Year. It was fantastic to see the life and work of so many brave and hard-working women being celebrated.
“As a major employer of women in Northern Ireland, we’re delighted to play a part in turning that spotlight on these fantastic and inspirational ladies.”
Belfast Telegraph Editor Mike Gilson added: “It was a fabulous night with very worthy winners and it’s great to see a young woman like Kate, who showed such tenacity, become our Woman of the Year.
“She not only became the first Irishwoman to row the Atlantic, setting world records, she shows the future of Northern Ireland.”
My amazing end to a difficult year
By Jane Hardy
The joint winner of the Belfast Telegraph Inspirational Woman of the Year award, Ann Travers, said winning her award was “a lovely way to end a very difficult year”.
Talking at one of the tables and looking glamorous in red, plus a blue scarf concealing the ravages of chemotherapy as she is being treated for cancer, Ann said: “It's absolutely amazing, I'm overwhelmed by it. Really blown away by the recognition.”
She shouldn't be.
This is a remarkable woman, whose father Tom, who was a judge and sister Mary were attacked by the IRA as they were leaving Mass at Derryvolgie Church in south Belfast in 1984. Her sister died in the attack and her father was badly wounded.
You can't help wondering what kept Ann going in her fight for justice for her sister Mary.
“I was always thinking of Mary
and my dad. I thought about how afraid she must have felt that day. She must have been terrified.”
Ann fought a successful campaign against the appointment of Mary McArdle, one of the people convicted over her sister’s murder, as a special adviser to Sinn Fein minister Caral Ni Chuilin.
“My father and sister didn't have a chance, and I thought it just couldn't happen,” she said.
Ann now sits on the Commission for Victims and Survivors.
Main award winners
Woman of the Year in Education: Michelle Godfrey
Woman of the Year in the Voluntary Sector: Roberta Rogers
Sportswoman of the Year: Bethany Firth
Inspirational Woman of the Year: Kate Richardson/ Ann Travers
Woman of the Year in the Health Sector: Jennifer Jackson
Mum of the Year: Leona Knox
Businesswoman of the Year: Fionnula Deane/Laura Campbell/Jackie McColgan of Dog Ears Ltd
Woman of the Year: Kate Richardson