Ballymena Bears Hill Challenge success

Ballymena Bears Hill Challenge

Ballymena Bears FATLAD Hill Challenge 2018

FANTASTIC achievement from Ballymena Bears, a special needs tag rugby team, who recently played rugby as they ran up a hill in each of the six counties of Northern Ireland on behalf of Wooden Spoon. The Bears regularly take part in the annual SEN International Tag Rugby Festival which is sponsored by Wooden Spoon and therefore this was their way of adding something back for that kind support.

The challenge was for the Bears to play rugby up six hills, one in each county of Northern Ireland hence the “FATLAD” 6 Hill Challenge. Over the course of Friday 11th to 13th May a team of 18 comprising of coaches, special needs players and adults travelled over 400 miles to get to the six hills which were:

  • Topped Mountain – Co Fermanagh
  • Slemish – Co Antrim
  • Mullaghcarn – Co Tyrone
  • Binevenagh – Co Londonderry
  • Slieve Gullion – Co Armagh
  • Slieve Croob – Co Down

Although wind and rain were forecast for the start, the Bears only saw blue sky and with Binevenagh under their belts completed on Friday night the team were in buoyant mood for the long steep ascent of Mullaghcarn first thing on Saturday morning. Despite an aching hip and leg young Shane McAndless was an inspiration to all making it all the way to top and with some tremendous views over County Fermanagh from Topped Mountain the halfway point was well and truly reached.

There could be nothing better than rugby at the top of Slieve Gullion, Co Armagh, on a beautiful crisp morning, with views out to the Irish Sea and Dublin. Indeed, the spirits of the team were truly lifted to know they were now on the home straight. A long slow climb to the top and back of Slieve Croob followed for the fifth hill and then thoughts turned to the final short sharp rugged climb that would be Slemish. Although on home turf and known to many, the scramble up Slemish turned out to be one of the most arduous of the challenge due to the very wet and slippery rocks that formed the almost vertical at times route to the top. The efforts of one; Danny McCormick shone on this hill, Danny who was not feeling 100% would not let it beat him and both up and down he doggedly stuck to the task, his efforts bringing a lump to the throat of his fellow team mates as he was applauded by everyone, including the assembled supporting Bears and families as he stepped over the finish line at the foot of the hill.

Challenge completed, the Bears presented a cheque for a massive £4,700 to Willie-John McBride and Tom Lyttle of Wooden Spoon Ulster on Sunday May 27th. A huge thank you to all our sponsors and everyone who took part.

Take a look at the video from the weekend:

Who are the Ballymena Bears?

The Bears provide Tag Rugby for people with special needs across the local community and surrounding area. Through sport we aim to help develop social and team skills and promote fun and enjoyment. It is also hoped that a greater understanding and inclusivity will develop as a result in the wider community. Currently we have 28 players on our register ranging from 7 to 55 years old with a range of learning disability. We meet every other Sunday at Eaton Park and are one of 9 groups in the province. We have a large bear mascot named “Rory” and our patrons are Ballymena, Ulster and Ireland player, Luke Marshall and Ulster Ladies U18s player Neve Jones.

We take part in lots of varied events including appearances at Ravenhill during Ulster matches at half time and touring to the annual Wooden Spoon International Special Needs Tag Rugby Festival.