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WALK OF LOVE; Mum of girl, 18,blinded by Omagh bomb in charity hike along Great Wall of China.

Byline: JOHN McCUSKER

THE mother of a teenager who lost her sight in the Omagh bombing is to walk along the Great Wall of China to raise funds for the blind.

Marie Gallagher will join eight other charity hikers this weekend on the 10-day fundraiser for the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB).

Marie's daughter, Claire, was blinded after suffering serious facial injuries in the Market Street explosion on August 15, 1998.

The young student had been in town with friends when she was caught up in the atrocity.

Since then the inspirational 18-year-old from Omagh has learned Braille, completed her A-levels and last week began a Music and Psychology course at Queen's University.

Claire said: "Getting to university is like having a great weight lifted off my shoulders - although I've been through enough to know that being alive is the only thing that matters.

"But I still wanted to prove that I could do it, that I could not be beaten by this."

Marie, who works as a radiographer at Craigavon Area Hospital, said: "The RNIB has been extremely helpful to Claire in the past and I thought it would be appropriate if I could help raise some money for the charity.

"Staff there have offered educational advice and equipment which helped Claire cope with the problems she faced after the bomb.

"They couldn't be more helpful and their efforts are still ongoing.

"I hope the money raised will help others to benefit in a similar fashion in the future."

The Great Wall of China is 4,500 miles long and is the only man-made object visible from space.

Day one of the the marathon journey will see Marie trekking up 1,600 steps of the wall on a stretch between the Chinese capital Beijing and the town of Chengde.

Marie said: "I know from personal experience that blind people face huge challenges every day and those 1,600 steps will certainly be a challenge."

During the charity hike Marie will be accompanied by her long-time friend Jayne Hartley.

Marie added: "When I said I wanted to walk the Great Wall of China my friend Jayne immediately said she would come along and support me."

Throughout the past eight months the pair have had to endure extensive training, regularly climbing hills in Tyrone and Donegal.

The foot and mouth crisis severely hampered their training schedule but since the lifting of restrictions the walkers have returned to the mountains.

Marie said: "When we started preparing for the Great Wall trek Jayne and I tried the training zone at the local leisure centre, but we both much preferred walking in the countryside."

Marie has been involved in other fundraising efforts for the RNIB including a garden fete and a novel night of wooden camel races.

Three weeks ago Marie and her husband Seamus led 300 walkers on the eight-mile Burren Ramble in Co Clare to raise thousands of pounds for the Royal National Lifeboat Institute.

Marie added: "It's the first time I've ever undertaken a fundraiser like this.

"So far people have been very supportive and generous with donations. We have raised over pounds 7,000.

"But I hope that figure will increase before we have to close the account."

CAPTION(S):

BRAVE: Marie and Claire Gallagher; WONDER: The Great Wall
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 6, 2001
Words:551
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