Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards 2015: Meet the fantastic five finalists for the U105 Young Person of the Year Award

Jennifer Smyth. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.
Jennifer Smyth. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.
Therese Heaney. Pic: Mark McCormick 21/05/15
Jay Beatty celebrates his nomination with UTV's Paul Clark. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.
Nathan Davidson. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.
Danielle McGriskin. Pic: Mark McCormick/Sunday Life.

By Christopher Woodhouse

Our fantastic five finalists in the U105 Young Person of the Year Award category of this year's Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers have achieved some extraordinary things.

All of our nominees featured here today have in their own way proved themselves to be an everyday young hero.

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 on Friday June 12.

As with last year, 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 Louis Walsh's new boyband Hometown 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 - which we featured last week - and the Specsavers Overcoming Adversity Award, whose finalists we will preview next week), as chosen by a judging panel headed by X Factor star Louis Walsh, 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. Louis Walsh said: "I'm excited to see this year's nominations and look forward to meeting the finalists on June 12."

Tickets for the gala awards ceremony cost £60, including dinner, table wine and entertainment, can be purchased from JPR, Sylvan House, 232-240, Belmont Office Park, Belfast, BT4 2AW; by phone at 028 90760066 or email:

A limited number of tickets are on sale for the star-studded Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers on Friday June 12.

Celebrities, including judge Louis Walsh, will pay tribute to NI's unsung heroes during the event at the Culloden Hotel, Holywood.

Boyband Hometown and comic May McFettridge will provide some light entertainment with UTV favourites Frank Mitchell and Pamela Ballantine hosting the ceremony, which will be shown on UTV.

Tickets cost £60 each, which includes a four-course meal, table wine and top-class entertainment.

To book tel: 028 90760066 or email

Jennifer Smyth

Jennifer, 17, was an award-winning gymnast who suffered horrific neck injuries coming off a vault during training in September 2013 leaving her quadriplegic.

The teenager from Eglinton, Co Londonderry, has astounded everyone with her remarkable recovery, getting back to school and vowing to defy doctors and walk again.

Thanks to the generosity of the public, her family has raised enough money for Jennifer to travel to the United States for revolutionary treatment for people with spinal injuries.

Jennifer's mum Pamela said: "She's very determined. Jennifer just gets on with life and does what it takes, even though she was told it was unlikely that she would walk again."

Therese Heaney

Therese, who had to undergo a liver transplant at the age of 7, was known at the hospital as "the child who never complains".

Born with a Biliary Atresia, which became life-threatening in January 2014, the Magherafelt girl (pictured above with Specsavers NI chairman Brian O'Kane) needed an urgent transplant which was found from a child donor that April.

Her surgeon said Therese's liver was in the worst condition he had seen in 20 years of practice.

Defying all the odds, Therese was discharged from hospital just 10 days after her transplant operation, impressing everyone with her strength, courage and optimism.

Now eight, she tries to do all the things her friends do and gets tired but keeps going.

Jay Beatty

Lurgan lad Jay, who was born with Down's Syndrome, stole the hearts of football fans when he won the Scottish Premiership goal of the month award.

The 11-year-old won 97 per cent of the votes cast for his half-time shot which hit the back of the net during Celtic's victory over Hamilton in February this year.

Celtic-mad Jay, who has done so much to raise Down's Syndrome awareness, was over the moon when Greek striker Georgios Samaras told him of his win in a video message - though Jay wanted to give the award to Celtic's Mikael Lustig.

"It's brilliant, I'm very proud of myself," said Jay.

"When we got the phone call we were just overwhelmed, it's very humbling and we would just like to thank everybody," said Jay's father Martin.

Nathan Davidson

Thanks to his quick thinking, then five-year-old Nathan helped save the life of his newly adopted two-year-old sister when she started taking a fit at their farmhouse home near Belfast.

Polina, (pictured below with Nathan) who was adopted by the Davidsons from a Russian orphanage, became unwell just two weeks after arriving home with her new family.

With Polina lying lifeless in her mother Sharon's arms, she shouted to Nathan to call for his father Gary, who was out working on their farm.

Nathan, now 12, used the landline - just like his mum had shown him - to get his father Gary back to their house and he was able to resuscitate Polina as the emergency services were on their way.

"It was really just his quick thinking and keeping calm and keeping me calm, he just took control," said mum Sharon.

Danielle McGriskin

Despite the devastating diagnosis of a brain tumour and hydrocephalus (water on the brain) in July 2011, Danielle used this as a spur to begin raising money and awareness of the disease.

The teen from Ballinderry Upper, near Lisburn, has fundraised ceaselessly ever since, collecting over £100,000 for The Brain Tumour Charity.

She has inspired thousands, both in how they deal with illness and to help raise funds, through her blog called "Danielle's Journey".

Biopsies and radiotherapy have not slowed the efforts of the brave 18-year-old as she continues to fight through her illness to keep up awareness and ensure the charity funds continue flowing in.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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