Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards 2015: Meet our Overcoming Adversity finalists

Oliver Dickey. Picture: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.
Oliver Dickey. Picture: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.
Grainne Evans with daughter Tessa. Picture: Aidan O'Reilly/Sunday Life.
Peter Mitchell. Picture: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.
Jean Daly. Picture: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.
Anita Dennison. Picture: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.

BY Christopher Woodhouse

Whatever obstacles or tragedies life throws up some people seem to have the drive and determination to overcome whatever stands in their way.

This is the case with each of our five finalists in the Specsavers Overcoming Adversity Award of this year's Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards.

They can now look forward to a top-class night of great food and entertainment at the grand final of Northern Ireland's leading awards ceremony in the five-star Culloden Hotel in Holywood this Friday, June 12.

Once again UTV will be filming the glittering occasion for a special one-hour TV programme, presented by Pamela Ballantine and Frank Mitchell, who will also be our hosts on the night.

Entertainment will be provided by new boyband Hometown, managed by Louis Walsh who is a special guest judge, and comic May McFettridge.

In what is also a moving occasion, guests will be introduced to all of our 15 finalists and get to hear their inspiring stories.

Winners in the three categories (the others are Sunday Life Unsung Hero and U105 Young Person), as chosen by a judging panel, will be announced on the night, as will the overall Spirit of Northern Ireland Award winner.

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The overall winner will receive a £1,000 cash prize from Northern Ireland's fastest growing care recruitment and domiciliary agency, Peninsula Care Services.

Tickets for the awards ceremony cost £60, including dinner, table wine and entertainment, can be purchased from JPR at 028 9076 0066 or email:

Oliver Dickey

Coleraine boy Oliver was facing life in a wheelchair after he was tragically diagnosed with spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, when he was just 18-months-old.

His parents, Neil and Charlene, found out about pioneering surgery in the United States that could give Oliver the hope of one day walking, running and playing with his friends and family.

Despite pessimistic doctors in the UK, the family raised over £91,000 to fund the treatment for the six-year-old through their Help Wee Oliver Walk Appeal.

Thankfully the surgery was a success and brave Oliver astounded everyone by taking his first steps at the age of five in July last year (right) and is now building his strength through intensive physio programmes.

"He's has worked hard and for people to see what he's achieved is wonderful because he has come so far," said mum Charlene.

Grainne Evans

Grainne's daughter Tessa was born without a nose due an extremely rare condition known as arhinia.

Just 47 cases of her two-year-old daughter's condition have ever been recorded in recent medical history, with little accurate information available about it.

Maghera mum Grainne, 31, with the help of her husband Nathan has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the one in a million condition, writing blogs in the hope that more information may be available to other families.

Tessa is now recovering from the first stage of ground breaking surgery to rebuild her nose at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

"There was a real information black hole surrounding this condition so I've tried to find out as much as I could about arhinia and connect with other families to learn from them, it's very rewarding," said Grainne.

Peter Mitchell

Derry man Peter Mitchell was living every boy's dream, playing for Leeds United when they were a Premier League football side and rubbing shoulders with soccer royalty like Robbie Keane and Rio Ferdinand.

Peter's life came crashing down around him when he was left paralysed by a tragic car accident in July 2002.

With iron determination Peter has battled through his tragedy and has gone on to be a star player for the Knights Wheelchair Basketball Club.

The 31-year-old has also found another starring role for himself after he was spotted by a London talent agent which led to parts in Channel 4's Hollyoaks as well as hit soap Coronation Street.

"I'm privileged to get opportunities which other people with disabilities don't get and feel a bit of weight on my shoulders to show people that just because you're disabled it doesn't have to ruin your life," said Peter.

Jean Daly

At the age of 16, Jean Daly was a prize winning horse rider and part of a team which won the prestigious Irish Pony Club championships.

In spring 2004, during a qualifying event in Downpatrick, Co Down, she was thrown from her horse and severed her spinal cord in the fall, leaving her paralysed from the waist down.

Jean thought her life was over but since then she has overcome her disability, with her irrepressible drive she has earned two masters degrees, including one in Disability and Rehabilitation Studies from University College Dublin.

Now 28, the Cork born Templepatrick, Co Antrim, resident has further fought against the stigma of disability by becoming the first ever wheelchair user to compete in the Rose of Tralee pageant, being selected as the Antrim Rose.

"I used my accident as an opportunity to go and promote disability, it's about enabling people, giving them the tools and letting them know there's so much out there," Jean told Sunday Life.

Anita Dennison

Resilient Co Armagh schoolgirl Anita suffered a year-long nightmare of verbal and cyberbullying at the hands of faceless tormentors when she was just 16 years old.

However, the St Paul's High School pupil has used her horrendous experience as an inspiration to become a leading anti-bullying campaigner.

The Bessbrook girl, now 18, is now running her own website and Twitter profile which offers support and guidance to those experiencing bullying.

"My way of getting over it was by raising awareness for other people, to show them I've had my darkest hour but here is an opportunity to get help and I want to be your voice," said Anita.

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