Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Spirit of Northern Ireland: Fire chief who helped a fellow runner finish Boston Marathon is celebrated across the globe... now it's time to nominate your hero

By Stephanie Bell

Omagh fire chief Terry Canning is a true sporting hero.

 The winner of our 2017 Spirit of Sport award at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers was celebrated across the world when he put any thoughts of his own achievement aside to carry a fellow competitor across the line at last year’s Boston Marathon.

It cost Terry precious minutes on his finishing time but gained him the respect of millions when a video of his actions went viral on the internet.

The hard-working father-of-three was overwhelmed to pick up the Spirit of Sport award presented to him by Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill and Ulster Rugby player Craig Gilroy.

And as we search for this year’s award finalists, he urged people to nominate. “It is a brilliant night out and we had an amazing time,” he said.

“To be honest it still hasn’t sunk in, even yet. I see the trophy and I think, ‘Did I really get that?’ It is a bit surreal and the publicity was also surreal. It is such a great night with so many people being honoured who you wouldn’t normally hear about and I have been encouraging people to nominate.”

Terry had a double celebration last year when in December he was also presented with The Chief’s Award, the ultimate accolade in the annual Northern Ireland Fire Service awards.

He says: “That was very special too and another big night and again I didn’t expect it, it was brilliant.”

In what was a memorable year overall, he also got to take his family on a VIP day out to a top local golf tournament.

The Spirit of Sport award last year was supported by sports management company, Modest! Golf, co-founded by Slow Hands singer Niall Horan who gave Terry VIP tickets for the Northern Ireland Open golf tournament at Galgorm Castle in August. Terry went along with his wife and two of his daughters who all enjoyed the red carpet treatment.

He says: “It was a great day out and the weather was lovely. We were in the VIP tent and had a wonderful meal and met a lot of lovely people. It was super.”

Terry (45) lives in Newtownstewart with his wife Paula (43). The couple have three children, Orlagh (24), Eirinn (20) and sixteen-year-old Beth and three grandchildren.

The Crew Commander of Omagh Fire Station, he has been a keen runner since he was 18, regularly taking part in marathons all over the UK.

In the Boston marathon last year, he was running in aid of the Enda Dolan Foundation — a charity set up in memory of the Killyclogher teenager who was killed by a drunk driver.

The Boston marathon was his 20th and he was close to the finishing line when he noticed New Jersey runner Julianne Bowe was overcome with heat and struggling to finish.  

As a firefighter his natural instinct is to help people in need and that training kicked in when, without thinking, he picked her up and carried her for the last 200 metres to the finishing line before setting her down so that she could cross it herself.  

His kind and selfless actions were caught on film and broadcast around the world and at the time Terry simply said: “To me it was the right, and only, thing to do.” 

Terry very nearly didn’t take part in the marathon and it wasn’t until he stood at the starting line that he made his mind up to run.

Four weeks earlier he had surgery on his leg and was still in pain. He ran the first five miles in pain and then decided to try and blank it out to finish the race.

Due to his injury, his goal was to finish in three hours 30 minutes instead of the three hours 15 minutes which he had initially hoped to achieve.

Stopping to help his fellow runner meant he added around five minutes to his time. He still managed to complete the marathon in three hours, 34 minutes.

He was chuffed that the woman he helped and her grateful parents contacted him through Facebook to thank him.

Terry said: “She took the bother to find out my name using my race number and looked me up on Facebook and Facetimed me to thank me.

“Her mother was there and saw her collapse but couldn’t get to her and she also contacted me to let me know how grateful she was.

“Julianne had taken part in the race the year before and had to pull out for medical reasons half way through it. She was very grateful to me that she got to finish it.”

Terry plans to go back this year to compete in the Boston Marathon again, although the girl he carried over the line last year won’t be taking part. However, he hopes to take some time after the race to visit New York where Julianne lives and hopefully meet her again.

He says: “Touch wood the training is going really well at the minute and without wanting to jinx myself, I would love to finish the race this year in three hours and 10 minutes.

“Another guy who also helped is going back and I hope to meet up with him at the race.”

No one in his home town of Omagh, where he is very much the go-to-person when it comes to organising runs, was in the least surprised last year to hear of Terry’s selfless act in Boston.

Terry has been a volunteer course director for Omagh Half Marathon for the past 18 years and regularly volunteers to mark out courses for other local runs in the town. He is also chairman of Omagh Harriers Athletic Club. He works both full time and is on call part-time as a fireman in the town, so helping others comes naturally to him.

You can nominate an unsung hero like Terry for this year’s awards using this form here, or by emailing spiritofniawards@sundaylife.co.uk

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