Five superheroes from Donegal have been presented with ‘Heart of RINKA’ awards for their indomitable spirit in the face of obstacles.

The special awards were held on Saturday 24th November in Athlone, where 18 children from all over Ireland were recognised as inspirational heroes.

RINKA Founder Sarah Gillespie

The heart-felt initiative was run by Donegal girl, Sarah Gillespie and her team of children’s fitness instructors from the RINKA children’s fitness school.

CEO of RINKA, Sarah Gillespie, said that the event was about celebrating the different capabilities, talents and interests each child has and recognising the challenges that the nominees face on a daily basis.

Sarah said: ‘The award wasn’t about being the best, or trying to come in first place. It was simply a day out to let these awe-inspiring children and their parents enjoy and to give us a chance to say we see you, we’re proud of you and keep going’.

Proud families gathered to cheer on their loved ones at the Shamrock Lodge in Athlone, which was turned green and gold for the occasion.

The five Donegal nominees on stage with RINKA CEO Sarah Gillespie: Cora Mc Bride, Matthew Doherty, Jack Beattie, Oisin McElhinney and Aoibhinn McGowan

There were 5 nominees present on the day from Donegal; Cora Mc Bride, Matthew Doherty, Oisin McElhinney, Jack Beattie and Aoibhinn McGowan.

Cora Mc Bride, aged 10, has Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy and Scoliosis. She is wheelchair bound and non verbal but the ‘happiest girl in Ireland’.

Cora recently donated 10 inches of her beautiful blonde hair to the Little Princess Trust. Kindness comes naturally to this brave girl who is adored by everyone who meets her.

Matthew Doherty from Castlefinn is a 12-year-old schoolboy and young footballer who is full of life after a tough battle with kidney disease. Matthew had been ill since he was 10 months old and was on dialysis for many years waiting on a kidney transplant.

Matthew set a new record for recovery after receiving a transplant at Temple Street – leaving the hospital just nine days after surgery. Since then he has enjoyed doing all the usual things that kids do – football, school and drama – and he is an inspirational advocate for organ donation.

Matthew Doherty (12). Photo: Rachel McLaughlin

Oisín McElhinney is just three years old, but he has already fought many battles. The Letterkenny boy has a rare brain disease called Moyamoya and is affected by seizures and many other complications.

Oisín took a very serious stroke in October resulting in him losing mobility on his left side of his body. The little trooper soon taught himself to walk again months after and also came through a major surgery this June.

Oisin McElhinney being presented with his Heart of RINKA award

Aoibhinn McGowan, aged 3, from West Donegal has fought childhood cancer with dignity and courage. She has endured harsh treatments in her young years, but always stays smiling, according to her mum Maeve.

“She’s never seems to get much of a clear break from illness but battles on with a beaming smile and has won the hearts of all the nurses and doctors she’s come into contact with,” said Maeve.

Jack Beattie, aged 7, from Raphoe, is always smiling and never fails to make others smile too.

He has Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type 3 along with many more related serious medical /health issues. That didn’t stop him becoming Donegal’s youngest member of An Garda Siochana!

Jack Beattie receiving his Heart of RINKA award

Jack is a community ambassador for Bumbleance and a bit of a local celebrity! His family said: “In Jack’s company one forgets all their worries as he has this wonderful capacity to cheer you up no matter what mood you are in and no matter what he is suffering himself.”

RINKA team leading a dance at the Heart of RINKA awards

Each nominee was presented with a Heart of RINKA Superhero cape on arrival, and guests enjoyed a disco, face-painting, oversized characters, a magician, art and a sweet cart.

The RINKA team were honoured to welcome the inspirational Joanne O’Riordan to the stage on the day.

Joanne, who is star of her own documentary, No Limbs No Limits, and is a weekly columnist for The Irish Times addressed the crowd about our choice to be positive, our choice to make the most of the life we have and our choice to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t do.

The event was proudly supported by AIB, and Eileen Sweeney of AIB said it was ‘a privilege to be there, and see all those magnificent children and their parents. It was truly humbling and would make you realise how good most of us have it.’

After the success of the inaugural awards, Sarah is keen to do it again and honour more brave young heroes. She said: ‘It made it even more special to see a room full of Donegal people and we will most definitely be back again next year!’

To see more from the event, visit