Joe Traynor overcame adversity following the death of his mum
No one deserves career success as much as Joe Traynor, winner of the 2021 Overcoming Adversity Award at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Ulster Bank.
The Co Down man, who as a teen had plans to go to university to study sports science, is instead now working and studying at the age of 22 for a career in financial advice.
The switch was entirely selfless as Joe gave up his own ambition to allow his younger brother to go to university after their mother tragically passed away when Joe was just 18.
The Bangor teen had no choice but to forget about university and get a job to support himself and his brother Jack who was 16 at the time.
As we launch this year’s Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards in association with Ulster Bank, Joe backs a call for entries and believes he is not alone in overcoming adversity in his life.
Thanks to his hard work and dedication, today he is on course for a successful career as a financial advisor.
However, at 18, he and his brother found themselves alone and homeless after losing their mum Lynda, who was just 55-years-old, to alcoholism in 2018.
The boys suffered the trauma of watching their mum die, despite frantic attempts by Joe at CPR as he tried to save her life.
Prior to her death, the young brothers had endured a tough childhood as their mother battled alcoholism.
Today, Joe believes that the stigma of alcoholism needs to be lifted so that children can seek support.
He says: “We just never mentioned it, as it was embarrassing and looking back now, I wish we had told our teachers as maybe we would have got some support.
“Jack and I never really talked about it, even to each other. It is only in recent years that I have told people and I feel now if it helps to reduce the stigma then it needs to be talked about.
“I still feel that way. Winning the Spirit of Northern Ireland Award was a real surprise, but for me too it was a chance to highlight alcoholism. Anything that gets people talking about it is worthwhile.”
Joe admits that most of his childhood was overshadowed by his mum’s battle with alcohol.
Not long before her death she spent three weeks in ICU after taking a seizure.
“Doctors said it was a miracle she survived it and said if she didn’t stop drinking it would kill her,” he recalls.
“She was a good mum and when she wasn’t drinking, she was bubbly and very happy and would talk to anyone.
“The morning she took another seizure, me and Jack were upstairs getting ready for school when we heard her fall and she called us.
“I rang the emergency services who talked me through CPR, but she was so fragile and weak, I could feel her bones breaking as I did it. The ambulance men couldn’t revive her.”
Her death left her boys alone to fend for themselves.
Joe was on his first year of a BTEC Level 3 Sports diploma course at South Eastern Regional College (SERC) with plans to go on and study sports science at university.
He explains: “When mum died, I couldn’t afford to go to university.
“Jack and I were suddenly very alone in the world and although we have good family support now, at the time it was like a hurricane had knocked the wind out of us.
“I couldn’t think about going to university then and the focus for me was to get a job and start earning money to support us.
“We couldn’t afford the rent of mum’s house and eventually thankfully we got an apartment.”
Despite everything he has been through, Joe has no self-pity and only talks about his gratitude for how things have worked out.
He is thankful that after talking to the careers team in SERC he was given advice on apprenticeships and found an opening in financial services.
He started training with 1 4 U Financial Solutions in Bangor and went on to complete his mortgage exams last year.
Joe has just started a new job as a financial advisor with an English-based firm who are paying for him to do further exams.
Ironically, a lot of his work involves giving families’ advice on insurance policies to avoid the financial difficulties he and his brother faced when their mum died.
He admits: “My life has taken a different path and I am on a new steep learning curve.
“Basically, I help families protect themselves against facing financial hardship, whether that is in the event of death, illness or injury.
“I have personal experience of what can go terribly wrong in the blink of an eye.”
Thanks to giving up his dream of university, his brother Jack is now on his final year of studying at Liverpool University.
But Joe continues to excel and was thrilled recently to be given an Apprentice of the Year Award at the 2022 SERC Excellence Awards.
He says: “I couldn’t believe I got Apprentice of the Year and I actually wasn’t even going to go as I thought I had no chance of winning.
“It is something to be proud of especially as it is for something that I had no idea would become my life.
“The Spirit of Northern Ireland award was also a shock. I had Covid and couldn’t attend the ceremony and I was gutted but I really didn’t expect to win.
“I was buzzing when I heard and for me it helped put the spotlight on alcoholism to help people with addiction. It is something I still want to get into, helping other alcoholics and hopefully in the future I might team up with a local group like AA as a volunteer.”
The Overcoming Adversity category is this year sponsored by Stroll Insurance, which was set up in Northern Ireland at the height of the pandemic.
A dreaded task on the ‘to do’ list every year, sorting our car insurance has traditionally been a frustrating, time-consuming and, at times, overwhelming process.
But Stroll Insurance is changing that by making car insurance easy whilst providing great cover at prices customers can afford.
Managing director Brian Allen says: “Our customers live in a world where everything is just a click away and how they purchase and access their car insurance should be no different.
“It’s been a huge challenge to take on a very traditional industry, especially against the background of a pandemic, but as a business we are curious and brave, much like the heroes in the category we are sponsoring this year, Overcoming Adversity.
“It is also testament to our customers who are trusting us, a newbie on the block, to help make their lives just that little bit easier.
“We all play a part in helping each other, now more than ever, and we could not be prouder to be involved in this year’s Spirit of NI Awards.”
*Rockers Ash will be performing at this year’s Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards.
The Downpatrick band, riding high in the charts with a special vinyl re-release of their album 1977, will take to the stage at the glittering ceremony on Friday, September 30 at the Culloden Estate and Spa in Co Down. Lead singer and guitarist Tim Wheeler, bassist Mark Hamilton and drummer Rick McMurray helped launch the awards during a recent visit to Belfast.
Fellow NI superstars Snow Patrol performed at the last awards in 2019.
*If you know someone who has Overcome Adversity and deserves to be recognised nominate today at email@example.com
AWARDS CATEGORIES AND HOW TO NOMINATE:
Unsung Hero (sponsored by The Boulevard)
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 (sponsored by Stroll Insurance)
Someone who has overcome huge personal challenges, whether it is dealing with illness or disability or overcoming problems.
Spirit of Youth (sponsored by Better)
Someone under the age of 18 who should be recognised for their special achievements.
999 Hero (sponsored by Shield Accident Management)
A member of the emergency services who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in their job.
Charity Champion (sponsored by Kingsbridge Foundation)
Someone who has worked tirelessly for a charity or as a fundraiser for many years.
Spirit of Health (sponsored by Balmoral Healthcare)
A medical professional who has gone the extra mile to improve the health and well-being of their patients.
Spirit of Education
This award recognises a truly inspirational teacher who has helped children and young people fulfil their potential.
Caring Spirit Award (sponsored by Power NI)
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.
Climate Hero (sponsored by Concentrix)
Seeks to recognise an individual or community group going the extra mile to care for and protect the local environment for future generations.
Someone who the judges feel represents the Spirit of Northern Ireland by selflessly serving others and being an inspiration to us all.
Nominations will be received up until August 22. To nominate someone couldn’t be easier. Simply email your nominations to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us the story of the person who has made a difference. You can also post nominations to us at Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards, 33 Clarendon Road, Belfast, BT1 3BG