Elaine and pet Lucy to hit the road on 90-mile trek for Alzheimer’s charities
An east Belfast woman, who lost her uncle to dementia just five weeks ago, is putting her best foot forward as she embarks on a solo three-day 'Home to Home' walk to her native Co Donegal to raise awareness of the condition.
Elaine McConnell (35) is leaving her Ballyhackamore home on Friday morning for the 90-mile walk to her family farm near St Johnston, close to the border with Co Londonderry.
However, the behaviour support teacher at Longstone Special School in Dundonald won't be alone on her trek, as her four-year-old cocker spaniel Lucy will be by her side.
Along the way, Elaine will become the first member of the public to walk the unopened stretch of the new A6 road from Randalstown to the Toome bypass.
Elaine's challenge is in memory of her uncle Bill McVitty who passed away on May 31 after living with Alzheimer's disease for more than 10 years and having been cared for at home by his wife Doreen.
Elaine plans to arrive in Donegal on Sunday evening in time for a special barbecue with family and friends.
Her walk will honour Bill, who in the later stages of dementia repeatedly asked to go home, even when he was already there.
Elaine said: "I was thinking this is really tough, tough on Bill, tough on Aunty Doreen and tough on the family watching his decline because Bill was a very intelligent, capable man who was just a complete gent.
"I thought it would be really nice to do something positive. I didn't know anyone with Alzheimer's before Uncle Bill.
"I was very unaware of the whole disorder of dementia, but the more you hear about it and the more you talk about it, the more people you realise are affected by it.
"Because Bill was always trying to go home, I thought maybe I could do a walk from my home here in Belfast to my family home in Donegal and that's where the idea came from and the name of the walk, 'Home to Home'," she added.
As well as raising awareness, Elaine is fundraising for the Alzheimer's Society in both the UK and Ireland.
"I am really looking forward to raising funds for these great charities north and south of the border to show people who are caring for people with dementia in particular that there is support out there and to raise the importance of people talking and seeking help and advice," she said.
"I also want to highlight the issue of caring for the carers who do so much work and are heroes in our own communities."
Elaine has been taken aback by the support received so far - with one hotel, the O'Neill Arms Country House in Toomebridge, offering a free stay for her first night on the road.
Graham/Farrans Construction Joint Venture have gone out of their way to allow Elaine access to the site of their almost completed 5.7 miles of new dual carriageway, allowing her to walk safely and traffic-free from Randalstown to the Toome bypass.
Charles Hurst, Belfast have also donated a minibus for three days to act as a support vehicle that can transport any volunteer walkers back to their cars if they have joined Elaine along the way.
Elaine will be joined by friends and family members along the way and is encouraging others to follow her progress on social media or make a donation online at justgiving.com/crowdfunding/hometohome2019