Gold Gaisce Award
My name is Thomas Bruton. I am 26 years old. I live with my parents on a farm outside Leixlip. I attend Rosse Court Training Centre. I use a powered wheelchair because I have quadriplegic cerebral palsy. I have no sight in my left eye but can see a bit with my right eye if I use glasses.
I really, really, really love sport. I enjoy swimming, ice skating, sailing and bowling. In the past, I have played boccia, wheelchair hurling and even tried skiing once. I was Rider of the Year for the Riding for the Disabled in Ireland (RDAI) and was one of a team to give a demonstration at the Horse Show in Dublin.
I love to go to cricket matches and rugby matches. I enjoy going to watch greyhound racing in Harold’s Cross and Shelbourne Park. I also go to gigs in the 3 Arena to hear my favourite groups and go with my friends to Buskers in Temple Bar for a night-out.
WHAT MOTIVATED ME
Every summer, I attend the Lighthouse Trust Summer School in Donaghadee, Co. Down. It is a summer school especially for children, and young people with cerebral palsy. One year, we had a volunteer working there. Her name was Alex and she was doing the bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award. She volunteered in the summer school because she needed some hours for her Community part. Alex told me about the Award and I was really interested but I thought I could not do it where I live. I really wanted to do it. My mum told me about the Gaisce (President’s Award). Through Mrs Eager, who was the Deputy Principal of Wilson’s Hospital School and knew about Gaisce, we made contact with Marion Irwin-Gowran. Marion told us that I could do it as an individual and became my PAL.
The more I heard about Gaisce, the more I thought that I must do it. I started with the Bronze in 2011. My Adventure Journey was to go to Glendalough to stay in the hostel. I looked at the monastic settlement and the accessibility. My mum and my sister, Liz, came with me as I needed them to push my wheelchair and take notes for me for my Adventure Project. I loved staying in the hostel. I enjoyed the challenge so much that I decided to go for the Silver.
I am really, really keen on cricket. It is my favourite sport. My Dad was always telling me about a match which took place in 1969 where Ireland beat the Windies (West Indies). They were the best team in the world, at that time. I got in touch with David Skelton who is crazy about cricket and he put me onto Ger Siggins who is the sports reporter in the Irish Times and who is also mad about cricket. He gave me a lot of useful information. I contacted Sion Mills Cricket Club where the match took place and arranged to go with my mum and dad to see the grounds. You just can’t imagine my excitement when I realised I would meet Ossie Calhoun who was the wicket keeper on the Irish team in 1969. Ossie was really helpful to me and he and John Browne (Hon Sec of the Cricket Club) gave me lots of information. I loved finding out about what happened on that day and it was fun putting together the project. I had to include a bit about the history of the village of Sion Mills. I asked my Dad to take photos of the grounds and my Mum took notes for me and my sister, Liz, put the photos into the final version of my project.
I emailed a copy of my project to Ger Siggins and David Skelton. The next thing was that I got an email from Cricket Ireland asking me if they could put it on their website. Then I got an email of congratulations from the Irish Cricket team who were playing in Abu Dhabi. I couldn’t believe it! I was thrilled that nothing like that had ever happened to me before.
The presentation for the Silver Award was in Trinity College on 5th December 2013. I had found the Silver Award quite a challenge and, on the way, I said to my mum and dad that I thought that I would not go further. At the Award ceremony, a lady spoke about her Gaisce Journey and how she had found it hard too. She said that anyone would got Silver should go for Gold. That was it! I told my mum and dad that I would try for Gold, if they would help me.
MY GOLD GAISCE JOURNEY
I decided to try to swim 10 lengths of the pool at St Raphael’s, Celbridge for my Physical Recreation. I already knew how to swim and I knew if I got help at the turns, I might just do it. Since I was 3 years old, I have been a member of the North Star Swimming Club. Marian Lee and Valerie Haugh are the two instructors. They, along with volunteers who come each Sunday, encouraged me to stick with it. They were brilliant! Thanks to them, I was able to do 18 lengths.
For my Personal Skill, I chose to improve my basic French. My teacher is Sarah Cahill. Every week, she came to my house and I told her about what I had done during the previous week. Sometimes, it was more in English than French but I kept it up, even though it was a real challenge. Sarah was really patient but even so I found it quite difficult. This was definitely my greatest challenge. If it hadn’t been for Sarah’s encouragement, I might have given up.
Now, I have a few pen pals who speak French and, with Sarah’s help, I email them every week and then they reply.
I found it difficult to think of a suitable Community Involvement. I wanted to do something which interested me and was worthwhile. I go with my mum to St. Peter’s Church in Dunboyne where the Rector is Rev. Janice Aiton. I asked Janice if I could help the Churchwardens and she said yes. There are six Churchwardens and each of them does 2 months per year, but I am there every week. My job is to be a Meeter / Greeter. I say hello to everyone and I have learnt most of the names. I try to be extra friendly to new people. I hand out the Hymn books, Prayer books and weekly Service Sheets. I sometimes do special collections. I bring the basket with the collection to the Rector at the altar. One of the Churchwardens pushes my wheelchair for me. One of the parishioners is Belgian and speaks French so I always greet him in French. One week, I knew we were going to have a group from Wales. My sister, Liz, was home for the weekend and I asked her advice. She put me onto a website where you could learn very basic Welsh. I learnt how to say Hello (sounds like ‘sit-mi or shoe-mi’) and Welcome (sounds like ‘cree-so’) in Welsh. The Welsh people were delighted. I told them how I did it and they said I should learn more before their next visit. I really love my work helping the Churchwardens. It is my favourite part of the three Gaisce Activities and I have continued it even after I had completed my 52 weeks. I think I like it because the six Churchwardens I work with are so much fun to be with and have taught me a lot. I have also met lots of people and they are all so friendly and nice to me.
Four out of the six church wardens with me at the Christmas Tree Festival where I was running the raffle to raise funds for the local Social services and the parish, November 2016.
For my Residential Project, I stayed in Cuisle, Donamon, Co. Roscommon. This is a holiday centre run by the Irish Wheelchair Association. I love it there. The staff are great and we have outings and discos and generally have fun. It is my place and I can be independent of my family there.
MY ADVENTURE JOURNEY
Finding my Adventure Journey was not easy. I wanted to find something that I was able to do but was also a challenge. My sister, Liz, looked at cycling for the disabled in the Peak District in England but I decided that I would not have to do much, as most of the pedalling would have to done by a companion. Out of the blue, I was contacted by Sailability in Carrickfergus. Sailability is an organisation which promotes sailing for people with disabilities. I had sailed with them for several years but this summer, they had received funding to organise a certified sailing course. The organiser, Geraldine Duggan, asked me if I would be interested and I said yes, immediately. The course was held in July over 5 days (Monday to Friday), mornings or afternoons. I chose afternoon, as I could do a stretching exercise programme to help me sit for the two and a half hours of the course.
I sailed on a Hawk 20 called Arica, another called Tamarind and on the Sea Rover. My mum came with me to take notes and also, when there was not special seating, to help me balance.
WHAT I HAVE GOT FROM DOING GAISCE
Gaisce has really stretched me! I got to do things I never dreamt of. I got to meet heroes like Ossie Calhoun. People who didn’t know me before this helped me to achieve my Gaisce. I have met new people. I have shown others that having a disability need not hold me back, as long as I was prepared to ask for help.
Lots of people helped me on my journey and I am so grateful to them. I feel so proud that I will be presented with the Gold Gaisce on 6th December by the President, Michael D Higgins, just three years after being challenged by the lady who spoke at the Silver Award ceremony, and five years after Alex told me about the Duke of Edinburgh Award, inspiring me to do the Bronze Gaisce.