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Remarkable group on a 432-mile trek by mobility scooter

After his wife was hurt in an accident, Gerry Magennis, from Lisburn, came up with a great idea to raise cash for charity, as Una Brankin finds out.

Helen Magennis remembers nothing of the head-on collision that ended her nursing career 13 years ago, but her husband Gerry will never forget the immediate aftermath of the terrible accident.

The Stoneyford businessman - who has put together a four-member disabled team for a unique, 432-mile mobility scooter charity challenge this week - described the scene of the crash in Lisburn as "a mess".

"The other driver was overtaking a bus on a dip in the road, and went straight into Helen," Gerry recalls. "The car was a total write-off - it took them 35 minutes to cut Helen out of it. Her feet were smashed to bits and she had chest and head injuries. She was in hospital for five weeks and only got out when she did because her nursing training meant she could look after herself."

These days, Helen does the book-keeping for Gerry's Fair Price Mobility company, which sells scooters for people with disabilities. The couple, who have two grown-up sons, run the business from their home near Lisburn.

"After Helen got out of hospital, she was confined to a wheelchair for two years," says Gerry. "She can get around on crutches now, but we keep a scooter in the boot for days out when there's a bit of walking involved. She's not doing too bad now - she's on the right side of the sod, anyway, and looking forward to our big trip."

Team Freeriders consists of Helen and three other disabled people whom Gerry has recruited for the marathon mobility scooter charity challenge, which set off earlier this week from Mizen Head in Co Cork and finishes in Malin Head, Co Donegal this Saturday. They hope to raise £10,000 for deserving charities.

The four-strong team will cross the border into Northern Ireland on Friday, when they travel the 69 miles from Sligo to Omagh, heading to Malin Head on the final day, covering a further 68 miles to complete the epic fundraising journey.

The hard-working duo has recruited friends and family, as well as local and international businesses, to help them plan and prepare for the six-day relay.

Team Freeriders includes Lisburn man Noel Ingram, who has lived with Parkinson's Disease for over 20 years, Belfast woman Pauline Ward, a former midwife who has MS, and Randalstown man Sean Hurrell, whose life has been impacted by cerebral palsy since childhood.

Riding top-of-the-range Freerider FR1 scooters, donated by Yorkshire-based company Freerider Luggie, the four 'mobilateers' are aiming to raise up to £10,000 of much needed funds for local charities Marie Curie and Parkinson's UK in Northern Ireland.

"People look at me as if I'm not wise, but they've been very supportive, too," laughs Gerry.

"I got the idea about seven years ago - I noticed all these fundraising events with tractor and bikes, and even steam engines, and I thought 'why not mobility scooters?'Noel has Parkinson's so we decided to raise money for that, as well as for Marie Curie. Before her accident, Helen was a Marie Curie nurse and we are all too aware of the great support and advice the nurses provide for cancer patients and their families.

"And Parkinson's is a much misunderstood and devastating disease, and we wanted to raise the profile of the charity, Parkinson's UK, in Northern Ireland, as well as a bit of cash for them."

As a former nurse, Helen is looking after the team's health and well-being on the road, as well as undertaking mobility scooter relays during the trip. A back-up team of five, including carers, friends and family, are following the scooters in a special motorhome provided by Richard Morgan of Provincial Group.

Noel's carer, Geraldine Murray, is acting as chief cook and the team will use the motorhome as a travel base to keep costs down and raise maximum funds for the two charities.

"All four of us use mobility scooters as part of their everyday life, but nobody has ever chalked up such a high daily mileage," says Helen. "We know that a disabled person has undertaken a powered wheelchair journey from Land's End to John O'Groats, but we believe our Team Freeriders trek may be a first, not only on the island of Ireland, but in Great Britain as well. It will be good fun."

The four-strong team will travel at 8mph on main highways, including A and B roads in Northern Ireland and the equivalent N and R roads in the Republic of Ireland. The group will not be utilising dual carriageways or motorway.

"The scooters are being powered by specialist batteries - we might hit 10 miles an hour, but we won't be breaking any major speed limits," says Gerry. "I'm sitting up in the van behind them, and there's a tin whistle player and a bodhran player among us to provide the entertainment. I'll be sleeping on mattresses in the van, but we'll do every other night in a B&B to clean up."

Team Freeriders has also secured some high-profile backing from top sports stars in Northern Ireland, including 2014 British Touring Car champion Colin Turkington, from Portadown, and former National Hot Rod world champion John Christie, who have both pledged to raise the profile of the fundraising trip through social media.

As well as via a charity Facebook page, donations can be made by cheque, made payable to Team Freeriders or cash and left at Fairprice Mobility (Steedstown Road, Stoneyford), Spruce Meadows Activity Farm (Ravernet, Lisburn) and at Supreme Fuel and Tyre Centre (1010 Crumlin Road, Belfast).

"I think this is the first ever mobility scooter challenge in Ireland," Gerry adds.

"Our 400-plus mile hike is a huge undertaking, but we're all confident we'll complete the challenge within our schedule - and no doubt have a bit of craic on the way.

"People can donate before, during and after our trip and the public can help us raise cash for both charities by going online. If they get a laugh at us along the way, that's all the better."

  • To donate to Team Freeriders mobility challenge, see:

A spectacular journey from south to north

  • Although Team Freeriders are reversing their route, the famous Malin to Mizen journey begins at Malin Head - Ireland's most northerly point in Co Donegal -  and ends at Mizen Head in Co Cork, commonly thought to be Ireland's most southerly point (although nearby Brow Head is approximately nine metres further south)
  • The journey is most often attempted by cyclists and walkers as a challenge route, with the goal of raising money for charities. As the crow flies, the two points are 466km apart. The shortest road distance from Malin to Mizen is approximately 555km. The distance of the routes commonly taken have been reported as between 644km and 715km
  • Most Mizen-to-Malin challenges start along the length of the beautiful Mizen Peninsula as far as Durrus, and over the hills of West Cork to Macroom
  • The first half of this route is quite scenic, passing several attractions in the area around Kilmallock and a little further on, at Lough Gur, on the way to Mallow. Then, it's northwards to Limerick and Athlone, before crossing the border at Enniskillen. Next stop's Londonderry and the Inishowen Peninsula, the last leg to Malin Head

On the road with the team

  • Tomorrow, July 1: Doonbeg to Tuam — 84 miles
  • Thursday, July 2: Tuam to Sligo — 64 miles
  • Friday, July 3: Sligo to Omagh — 69 miles
  • Saturday, July 4: Omagh to Malin Head — 68 miles

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