An Eglinton cyclist is set to be honoured in Derry after completing the toughest endurance race in the world, despite almost dying during a previous attempt.
Joe Barr, backed by his team which includes a number of other people from the city, last week completed the epic 3,000 mile Race Across America, and so impressed was the Governor of Maryland that he made an official proclamation renaming June 23 ‘Team Ireland Day’ in the team’s honour.
Now moves are afoot to acknowledge the feat - and the reasons why Joe undertook the gruelling challenge - by hosting a civic reception in Derry.
The heroic feat is made all the more impressive by the fact that the race almost claimed his life two years ago. High in the Rocky Mountains he collapsed from severe oxygen deprivation and partial lung collapse; the motivation was to raise funds to help children with cancer in the North reconnect with family, friends and school.
His recovery to complete the formidable race across the arid deserts, great plains and mountains of the continental United States - from California on America’s west coast to Maryland in the east - means US based charity Hopecam can now supply equipment through the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children to assist children who are isloated through cancer. Once again, Joe suffered from altitude sickness, but he conquered it and made a point every night of contacting a child with cancer. Friends say their courage, as well as his own determination, helped inspire Joe to continue.
Len Forkas, founder of Hopecam-USA, set the charity up due to his son’s battle with a life threatening cancer. He was a successful competitor in the Race Across America in 2012, where he met Joe Barr near the top of the Rockies - the scene of the Eglinton man’s collapse from oxygen deprivation.
Speaking about Joe Barr’s accomplishments in this year’s race after his recovery from the near-fatal collapse two years ago, Len Forkas said: “Team Ireland and Joe Barr don’t know the meaning of the word quit. They are great inspirational people and voluntary leaders in the establishment of Hopecam-Ireland in 2015. All associated with Hopecam and Race Across America are privileged to call the members of Team Ireland friends and salute their outstanding achievement in Race Across America 2014.”
Joe said: “As ever, I am indebted to our sponsors, contributors and the wonderful young people who are battling cancer and beating the odds - they are my inspiration.”
The Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, made an official proclamation renaming June 23 ‘Team Ireland Day’. He said: “Cyclist Joe Barr from Derry and Donegal and Team Ireland, one of whose major sponsors is Sodexo Corporation, have battled through desert heat, high mountain altitudes, windswept plains, steep climbs and other challenging conditions for 3,014 miles to raise the money to establish Hopecam-Ireland in 2014/5, so that children in treatment for cancer can be better connected with their family, relatives and community and school friends.
A civic reception in Derry may take place within the next couple of weeks, now that Joe has returned home.