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Northern Ireland nurse at halfway point of epic charity challenge

West Belfast man cycling to Turkey for kids’ charity


Charity champion: Martin McGouran spoke to this newspaper from Croatia

Charity champion: Martin McGouran spoke to this newspaper from Croatia

Charity champion: Martin McGouran spoke to this newspaper from Croatia

A paediatric nurse is battling bad weather and delays caused by Covid restrictions to complete a Belfast-to-Turkey cycle trip in aid of a children’s charity.

West Belfast man Martin McGouran, who is halfway through his journey, spoke to the Belfast Telegraph about the challenge from Gvozd in Croatia, where the charity he is raising money for is based.

When he was a student in 2014, Mr McGouran (35) started volunteering for the Suncokret Centre through the European Voluntary Service Programme, a European Union-funded programme for 18 to 30-year-olds.

The community development centre, the name of which means ‘sunflower’, is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation that was founded to help children and people with psychological problems caused by the violence triggered by the traumatic break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

He has returned every year or two since then to volunteer, alongside raising thousands of the pounds for the charity through fundraising events such as ultra-marathons.

This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters in Croatia, the charity needed his help more than ever.

“They had two earthquakes in Croatia recently and, unfortunately, it’s damaged the centre badly,” he explained.

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“Structurally, it’s safe, but long-term, it’s not suitable.

“They’ve also lost a lot of their funding from the European Union because they don’t have any volunteers coming in.

“In the last couple of years, the charity’s chairs, Maja and Starac, have struggled to keep the organisation going.

“I want to support them because they do such great work with the children.

“They treat them like their own, nurturing many from a young age and providing financial support to allow them to take part in educational after-school programmes.”

Mr McGouran set off from Belfast on May 27 after taking a career break from his job at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children for London.

His journey has so far taken him through Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria, onto Italy and Croatia.

For every £10 donated to the appeal, he will add another £1.

The charity champion is no stranger to life on the road, having previously spent a year backpacking.

He went back to work for 10 months before taking on his latest challenge.

The cycle has taken longer than he thought it would “because when I came from the UK, I had to isolate for 10 days in Belgium, then I was met with bad weather in Germany”. I wasn’t involved with the floods, but I’ve been hit by rainstorms the last few weeks, which really messes up the day. I think from here onwards, it will take about six weeks to get to Turkey,” he said.

Despite the gruelling nature of the journey and issues caused by the weather, he mostly camps outside.

Incredibly, Mr McGouran did no training at all before embarking on his epic trip.

“I’m not fit,” he said. “When I started, it was really hard, but as time goes on, I can cycle longer distances, although sometimes I have problems with my skin breaking. But I’m getting fitter.

To donate to the charity challenge search for ‘cyclemarty’ on the Just Giving website

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