‘Mum was my best friend, my go to person, she’s left a void that we can never fill’

The heartbroken daughter of a Kilmessan woman who passed away from brain cancer last year says she is taking on the gruelling challenge of a 48 hour marathon to thank the medical team who looked after her in her final days.

Ultra runner Nichola Duffy is to run for two days straight without stopping on March 10th to raise money for Beaumont Hospital Cancer Research & Development Trust.

The talented athlete is undertaking the mammoth task in memory of her mum Joan Steen who died in March of last year after a shock cancer diagnosis.

No stranger to arduous challenges, the frontline worker who only took up running in 2016 represented Ireland at the IAU European 24-Hour Championships take took place in Verona last year.

In 2020 Duffy - who is a member of Tara AC and works as a nurse - braved storm Aidan to complete a significant distance as part of an 'elite invitational' event clocking up 207kms over a 24-hour period on a 400-metre track.

She also came second overall in the Barcelona Ultra Marathon running a staggering 201.8 km over 504 laps in a 24-hour event.

If that wasn't impressive enough Nurse Duffy ran an incredible 114km the equivalent of almost three Dublin City marathons a few years ago to raise funds for Millbury Nursing Home in Navan that was hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis.

But this challenge will be the most poignant for Nichola as her mum will be on her mind throughout the 48 hour run.

"I just wanted the opportunity to give something back for all of the wonderful care Professor Donncha O’Brien and his team in Beaumont Hospital provided for mam," she said.

"The team in Beaumont looked after my mam so impeccably, they were phenomenal. They looked after my mother with such empathy. It's only a very small token what I'm giving back because they gave my mum so much but I wanted to recognise that and say thank you for everything from me and my family."

The 48 Youth Sport Omagh will be the first 48 hour race to take place in Ireland and the first of this duration for Nichola to take on as she explains:

"I've not actually done a 48 hour run before, running consistently for two consecutive days is going to be a big challenge for me.

"It will be on a 400 metre track so lots of circles and loops. I'd be hoping for a distance of somewhere between 215km and 330km.

"My personal best for 24 hours is 207km when I won Gloucester Elite Ultra Marathon

"The goal would be to run consistently throughout and not to stop.

"It's a big step up, there are not many people who have done it so I know it's a huge challenge but it's something that I really want to do."

It was a huge shock for Nichola and her family when her mum received a devastating cancer diagnosis in 2021.

"She was diagnosed out of the blue, she was a fit, healthy kind of a lady, like myself in a lot of respects, very active, minded my son, Harry, every single day and was just a huge part of all of our lives.

"She had no symptoms really except one day she ended up having a seizure and from that she was diagnosed with brain metastases. Unfortunately she went through a lot but when she went up to Beaumont she had brain surgery and they gave her extra time she wouldn't have had only for the fact that they looked after her with such expertise. I know that my mother was very grateful for his input. She was always treated with such humanity the whole way through and they really minded her."

The frontline worker says she misses mum Joan "more than anything" but hopes to do her proud when she runs 48 hours in her memory.

"My mum was my best friend, she was my go to person if I ever had any difficulty or problems, she was there to solve them with me. What I'd look forward to most was that on a Friday she'd come over and have a sherry and I'd have a drink and we'd just talk about our week. She was just the central hub of the family. She's left a void that we can never fill, it's very hard to articulate how important the role she played.

"I ran in the European Championships in Verona in Italy in September, my mother was supposed to be there so it was a very emotional run."

Late to the running scene Nichola says she is only getting started.

"Part of my drive is that I don't feel like I've even touched what I'm capable of, I feel like I have much more to give."