An all-inclusive family sports day is taking place this Saturday in aid of the No Barriers Foundation.

The No Barriers Sports Day and Fun Walk in the Aura Leisure Centre in Letterkenny on 15th July 2017 gives everyone a chance to take part in some activities – irrespective of age or ability.

This is a fundraising and promotional event aiming to raise funds to purchase an Eskobionics Robotic Exoskeleton for Donegal. An exoskeleton is a world-class suit that allows people with spinal cord injuries and mobility problems to do walking exercises. When in use, patients can stand upright and reap the many benefits of an unparalleled rehabilitation experience.

True to the ethos of the No Barriers Foundation, this will be a fully inclusive event. Whether you or a family member uses a wheelchair or you are a non-wheelchair user, you will find something to take part in and enjoy.

One of the top highlights of the day will be at 5pm when there will be a fun walk around the track for everyone commenced by Gerry McCabe walking in his own exoskeleton.

This is a chance for people to see what the No Barriers Positive Steps campaign hopes to achieve for people in Donegal. The purchase of an exoskeleton suit will cost €150,000. No Barriers plan to buy this for the Donegal community, to be owned by the community and facilitated by a specialist Neuro Physiotherapist.

Image result for aura leisure centre

Aura Leisure Centre Letterkenny

The fundraising day this weekend is jam-packed with events. From penalty shoot-outs to wheelchair basketball, hurling, badminton, boccia and football, you and you family can get competitive in so many games.

There will be some well-known faces there too, as Gary Kavanagh – one of the head judges of the All Ireland skateboarding championships – will run during registration in the skate-park until 3 pm. Gary also has a UFC championship belt given to him by UFC, which he has offered to take up on the day if anyone is interested in a unique photo opportunity. Donegal captain Michael Murphy will also be there to meet fans.

Agenda for the No Barriers Sports Day and Fun Walk: 

Registration will be from 1-1.45pm in the main concourse.

There will be an opportunity to select which activities you may want to take part in but with 2-4 sessions only of each activity and a capacity of 14 per session these slots may fill up fast so we encourage early registration.

Full assistance will be given with registration.

There will be an opportunity to purchase raffle tickets during registration for an annual membership for the Aura, which they have gratefully donated.

Inclusive sports sessions will be held from 2-4pm in the indoor courts. These will include wheelchair basketball, hurling, badminton, boccia and football for all. These will be 30 minute sessions and we are privileged to have qualified coaches from the GAA, FAI, Disability Sports Northern Ireland, Three Rivers badminton group and Donegal Sports Partnership, without which this event could not take place, all of which are offering their services free of charge.

We plan to have hand-cycles available on the day on the outdoors 7 lane track. The Astroturf will be open for penalty shoot-outs from 3-4pm.

There will be a presentation of certificates of participation from 4-4.30pm with hopefully a few local celebrities followed by a demonstration of the ekso-bionic eksoskeleton by Gerry McCabe who is an active user of the eksoskeleton.

The highlight of the day will be at 5pm when we have a fun walk around the track for everyone commenced by Gerry McCabe walking in his own eksoskeleton. There is no obligation to complete a full circuit of the track-distance and speed is your choice.

Compare for the day will be Adrian Harmon from AA Roadwatch.

Refreshments will be available on site including a barbeque hosted by the Aura in celebration of their 10th anniversary. Additional accessible toilet/changing facilities will be in place inclusive of a hoist and changing table. A quiet area will also be made available.


Donegal Woman Sonia McGarvey, the Secretary of the No Barriers committee, shares her interest and involvement in the initiative:

“I met Johnny Loughrey the chairperson of the No Barriers Foundation when he was working as a physio in the stroke and medical rehab unit where I work as an Occupational Therapist.

“He now works with my daughter who has a spinal cord injury and is paralysed from the chest down and I have always been bowled over by his eagerness to improve the lives of others, his optimism and his can do attitude.

“I am really excited about where ‘No Barriers’ can take us into the future but at present all our energies are going into the Positive Steps campaign.

“We, like most people that acquire a disabling injury search for the cure or further recovery and want to optimise our chances at all costs.

“In our case we did travel abroad to look at restorative therapies and we did make an effort to equip ourselves at home at a significant cost which thankfully at the time was covered by fundraising from the people of Donegal which we will be forever indebted.

“With the Positive Steps campaign and the purchase of this eksoskeleton and its use here in Donegal it means that many others will not have to fundraise individually or go to great costs including travel and the disruption that brings to all areas of life.

“This event was originally to be an inclusive fun walk only and that is why a track was chosen so as to accommodate buggys, wheelchairs and those with mobility aids. The reason that it is not a definite distance is that I feel 5k fundraisers often exclude people with a disability or those under pressure for time.

“The decision was made to introduce other sport activities on the day to promote disability/inclusive sports and in the planning to research availability and therefore awareness. Donegal sports partnership and social inclusion HSE run ‘come try me’ events annually and this is where we got our idea and most contacts.

“We hope that through this event we will have expressions of interest from people to further pursue these sports and these lists will be given to the appropriate sport development officer/coach and Therese Laverty the Disability Inclusion Officer for the Donegal Sports Partnership.

“We have already been approached by Finn Valley Athletics and Friel Consultancy who with IWA, DSP and DSNI plan to introduce Northwest Para-athletics on Saturday 23rd September.

“Also John Hunter and his partner in Three Rivers badminton are interested in starting wheelchair badminton.

“We hope to have a rep from Paralympics Ireland available on the day too and contact details will be given of all other service providers.

“We hope in the future to continue with this style of fundraising event as it really promotes social inclusion and exercise in the community – two ideals that are close to our hearts.”

Mark Pollock using the robotic exoskeleton

As an Occupational Therapist, Sonia knows the many benefits of exercise as therapy and how the exoskeleton can enable this in unique ways for many people in Donegal:

“With the Positive Steps campaign and the purchase of this exoskeleton and its use here in Donegal it means that many others will not have to fundraise individually or go to great costs including travel and the disruption that brings to all areas of life.

“Once someone acquires an injury/disability, exercise becomes part of the daily routine. This often is in the form of stretching and a supported standing regime but not everyone has the assistance or equipment to provide this.

“However it is of utmost importance to prevent/delay progression of deformities that can develop from being in a seated position for the majority of the day.

“Weight-bearing through the legs is beneficial for bone health, bladder drainage and the circulatory system-blood pressure regulations, as well as the many psychological factors in being upright which so many of us take for granted.

“Assistance with walking retraining generally involves 2-3 physios and is very intensive and generally only available in acute rehabilitation.

“The introduction of the eksoskeleton means that gait retraining can be done in a safe efficient manner in the community as part of a maintenance programme or restorative therapy.

“It will not be suitable to all people with mobility issues due to M.S, stroke, brain injury or spinal cord injury but we are aware of potential users here in Donegal and hope to have satellite clinics throughout Donegal where people will have equal access to be assessed for suitability and use if appropriate.

Johnny Loughrey with Jennifer Loughrey using the Exoskeleton

“Exercise to date for people with neurological disabilities has been are very much solitary and there are very few opportunities for people with disabilities to exercise with others – it is not a matter of putting the headphones in and heading off for a jog or popping into the gym but hopefully we can make small changes to make this happen.

“Many people take part in activities or sports as part of their exercise but this is rarely inclusive and the idea of No Barriers is to open up opportunities for all to participate in exercise in the community.”

For more information about No Barriers, follow these links:

Facebook: No Barriers Foundation
Go fund me: No Barriers Foundation
Contact: 083 3064381