Participant Stories: Stephen Loftus

A student of St. Muirdeach’s College Ballina, began his Bronze award at the age of 15, and completed his Silver award in Transition Year. His love of the outdoors, adventure sports, community work, first aid, and fitness have been central to his Gaisce journey. On his journey, he had a helpful & supportive PAL in Jane McGee. Stephen wanted to be the first person in the school to achieve the prestigious Gold award, and in February 2015, along with Ethan Preston, collected their awards from President Michael D Higgins at the Gold Award Ceremony.

Stephen taught first aid to a youth group every Friday night. This soon increased to twice a week, as the youths were taking part in National first aid competitions. The group excelled at regional levels, winning the most silverware and medals. Stephen was delighted to pass on his enthusiasm and his passion for first aid.

Stephen undertook weight training in his local gym. Spending 2 hour sessions in the gym from Monday to Friday, enjoying it and finding it rewarding. He had a rigorous routine and covered all kinds of exercises. He continues to attend the gym regularly. Stephen was heavily involved with Ballina Order of Malta unit, attending weekly meetings and numerous training sessions. Stephen worked with the unit on Reek Sunday (at Croagh Patrick). The unit ran a free bus service from September to December where they collected elderly & disabled members within the community, and took them to mass every Sunday. Many of these people were delighted to be able to attend mass and be brought out of their homes for a while. The feedback was so positive that they ran the service for the rest of the year.

He travelled to Lourdes in 2013 & 2014 with the Order to assist with the annual international Order of Malta Pilgrimage. He was part of a team that looked after elderly and disabled people who required care & attention. Stephen worked as part of the transport team; upon arrival he was responsible for showering & dressing the patients before bringing them to mass. During the week he took them shopping and then went to evening mass. He was also responsible for putting the patients to bed, and helping them with their medications.

Stephen’s adventure journey involved canoeing from Lough Key to Ballyconnell. It was a tough first day as it was cold & extremely windy. The second day was frustrating as several water locks required them to unload their boats, and carry the boats & equipment over the lock. The third day provided good weather conditions, allowing them to get into a good rhythm and gain good distance. Although the evening time was not as fortunate, as heavy rain & little overhead cover soaked the equipment they had left to dry. Strong winds knocked the food into the fire and soaked most of the fuel supply. While things were looking bad, the group kept their spirits up and rebuilt the fire. When the skies cleared, the lack of overhead cover showed the spectacular view of the stars, and the situation turned into one of the high points of the trip. The final day saw them looking forward to a warm shower, a hot meal, and a cup of tea which didn’t contain soil! The last section was covered very quickly, and the group celebrated in style – by having a full Irish breakfast in Ballyconnell.

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