Cillian Sherlock, PA
Former Irish rugby captain Rory Best said he “feels great” as he embarked on a 330km 10-day journey across the country in a bid to raise €2 million for child cancer services.
“I have loads of energy,” he said, as he set off from the Aviva Stadium alongside 14-year-old Naomi Howlin, who was diagnosed with cancer last year.
They were cheered on by gathered crowds in the Dublin sunshine.
The final destination on Thursday, May 25th, is the site where the Cancer Fund For Children hopes to develop a new therapeutic short-break centre, Daisy Lodge, in Cong, Co Mayo.
And he’s off!
Today @RoryBest2 began his 330km trek from Dublin to Mayo to help us support children and young people.
Get behind his challenge today 👇https://t.co/hDXCwrgCqx pic.twitter.com/YCuDhlDZOj
— Cancer Fund for Children (@CancerFundChild) May 16, 2023
Best said: “I’m taking on this walking challenge in support of Cancer Fund for Children starting today, having been inspired by the amazing work the charity does to help children across the island diagnosed with cancer and their families.
“I’m asking you all – particularly those along the route – to come and support me on their behalf as I pass through your county, and please be generous in support of this great cause.
“A childhood cancer diagnosis can impact the whole family.
“Therapeutic short breaks at Daisy Lodge provide children with cancer a space to rest, time with their families and the opportunity to build connections with others their own age going through the same thing.
“They get to be treated like the stars they are and that’s why I’m delighted to be doing my bit to help bring another therapeutic facility like this to Co Mayo.”
The charity already operates a Daisy Lodge in Newcastle, Co Down, which provides a safe and supportive environment “far removed from the pressures of cancer treatment and hospital wards”.
Best admitted he was feeling “nervous” about 100 metres into the journey, but took comfort in the support he will be given along the way.
That support came in the form of local residents and schoolchildren cheering him on, as well as dozens of fellow travellers behind him – including members of the Defence Forces marching in step.
Among those joining Best for part of his journey were former Irish rugby internationals Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Kearney.
“The impact he has is enormous,” Kearney said.
“Children’s health and cancer is something I feel very strongly about myself and all kids should have the very best chance at life, and… the likes of these centres and hospices are hugely important and beneficial to so many families.
“I’m looking forward to my involvement. I’ll only be doing a few hours of the walk but Rory has to do 10 days of it.
“But the more people that can walk alongside of him, it’ll give him a little bit of a buzz.”
They were alongside Ireland coach Andy Farrell and a number of other big names who attended a hearty breakfast before the walk, including Mayo man and former taoiseach Enda Kenny and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.
Best’s route took him past Trinity College Dublin and Government Buildings and will also see him pass through Kildare, Laois, Tipperary, Limerick, Clare, Galway and Mayo.
Along the route he will be joined by some of the families supported by Cancer Fund for Children, as well as former teammates, public figures, other sporting heroes, sponsors and supporters of the charity.
He raised more than €1 million on his previous walk in 2021, which was used to expand Cancer Fund for Children’s services.
The charity’s chief executive Phil Alexander said: “Every week across Ireland, 10 children and young people (aged 0-24) are diagnosed with cancer.
“Our mission is simple: to help ensure that no child or young person has to face cancer alone.”
More than €400,000 had been raised by 3pm on Tuesday with members of the public invited to donate through rorysmiles2mayo.com.