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Parkinson’s Ireland interview with Mary-Ita O’Connor

Parkinson’s Ireland spoke to Limerick born Mary-Ita O’Connor, who featured on RTE’s ‘The Big Life Fix’ in search of a new and improved rollator for her park runs.

Mary-Ita was born in 1963 and grew up in West Limerick, but now lives in Co Cork. She has three daughters and still follows local Limerick hurling.

Mary-Ita loves running too, but this was a newfound joy that only became part of her life once Parkinson’s kicked in. “It’s a great saviour for me,” she explained.

Diagnosis

When Mary-Ita was 39 years of age, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. “I didn’t want to know about it, the consultant said yes you have it but I said leave it, forget about it, don’t talk about it.”

After a few falls, Mary-Ita received her diagnosis and said for the first while she was “feeling sorry” for herself and lost her confidence: “I couldn’t go for any walks really. I’d try to go up the road for a walk and I’d freeze.”

Crossing the road was the hardest job for her: “I’d freeze if I heard a car coming or if people were walking towards me I’d freeze. I lost my confidence completely then.”

Relationship with Running

Mary-Ita kept going, and after gaining confidence on the treadmill at home, she took part in her first run in April 2016, a fundraiser where she linked arms with two of her daughters the whole way.

Her daughter then suggested trying a park run, which were local in Newcastle West: “I said okay, so we signed up for it, it was 5km and I was only up to 3km on the treadmill”. Mary-Ita agreed to push herself and ran the whole 5km.

“I met lovely people, special people, I’m still friends with them. I do the runs as often as I can.” Mary-Ita does 10km runs now also, with her dear friends Leila and Patsy.

Running helped Mary-Ita get her confidence back, and explained that it is “great for the head”. She said: “When I cross the finish line, I still get the same buzz now as I did back in 2016. I love crossing that finish line. No matter how slow or how tired we get, we won’t walk, we keep running slow. I can’t give in”.

‘The Big Life Fix’

After Covid, Mary-Ita needed a new rollator. She sought the names of engineers from ‘The Big Life Fix’ to see if they could make one for her. However, she was told she would have to take part in the television show. “Forget that!” Mary-Ita laughed. She kept trying, and when they asked her to do the show again she agreed: “Go on so, I will!”

Filming began in 2021 and she said those involved were “smashing people”. Mary-Ita met inventor and rocket scientist David McKeown and he created the prototype for her new rollator: “I broke it of course that day! But he came back with a stronger one. He has a brilliant mind.” Mary-Ita also told RTE that McKeown knew she was interested in Limerick GAA, “so he put all the years they won the All-Ireland on it, and all my family names on it. It’s beautiful.”

Don’t Give In

Mary-Ita intends to keep going for as long as she can and has a list of runs planned in various counties such as Clare, Galway, Kerry, Cork and Limerick. She remains extremely optimistic, but the one word she doesn’t want to hear is “inspiration”. “I go mad when I hear that word. I have it (Parkinson’s), I’ve got it, get on with it.”

When asked what advice she would give to people with Parkinson’s Disease, Mary-Ita said to keep going no matter what: “Just keep going. If we’re out running and the girls are waiting on me and I slow down, I say keep going, I’ll catch up.”

“The other thing I will say is to have faith. I have great faith in my prayers. Faith is a good friend, and just keep going and don’t give in.”

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