Twenty years ago on Monday October 7th 1996 my friend Tara was blown up by a car bomb while serving in the army in North Ireland. She sustained a terrible head injury and nearly died. One of the soldiers hit that day did die.
On Friday October 7th 2016, she was back in Northern Ireland, remembering events from twenty years ago, This time she was with me, her partner Michelle and my sister Adi. Despite staying at the Europa Hotel – the most bombed hotel in Europe we were hoping for a slightly less eventful weekend! This time it was to celebrate that Tara survived and was still with us.
When Tara mentioned to me back in February that she was thinking of visiting Belfast to mark the 20 years I said I would love to come along….then I cheekily asked if she would mind me doing an event 🙂 Being the good friend that she is she said yes and would join me.
Sister Adi and I flew out with Easyjet from Bristol on Friday afternoon, this time unlike our last attempted mini break to Edinburgh it all went to plan. The flight was on time and there were no weather issues. We arrived at Belfast International airport on time and after buying our bus ticket had two minutes to catch the bus….the exercise had begun, good warm up for parkrun, although if you had seen the state of me an Adi gasping at the closing bus doors you would have had your doubts about our chances of completing parkrun!
Tara and Michelle had arrived earlier in the day and were waiting for us in the bar of the Europa, after a quick bag drop in the room, a change of tops and a dash of lipstick we were ready. We came back to the bar and to our first prosecco of the night…there may have been a few more.
Tara had booked a table at the hotel, in fact she had booked all the activities for the weekend, she is so organised. Over dinner she told us a bit more about the events 20 years ago. As a young soldier she was based in Germany but was called up to do a six month tour of duty in North Ireland….this was the first time her troop had sent women to Northern Ireland. She had only been there just over a month when it happened…a car bomb in the barracks.
She was rushed to Victoria hospital where surgeons operated to remove pieces of skull and shrapnel from her brain, she was not expected to last the night. But she survived and spent five days in intensive care where she was protected 24 hours a day by armed guards outside her room.
She told us that the surgeons were some of the best in the world at this type of surgery, unfortunately because they got so much practise. The other surgery they excelled at was knee repair, again, due to the number of knee capping incidents so popular during the troubles.
Tara recovered and even went back into the army for a while. She was left with limited vision…meaning she still can’t drive (she was a driver in the army) and to this day suffers from extreme fatigue if she over does it.
As those who know Tara, this doesn’t stop her doing amazing stuff – she has a half ironman under her belt and is signed up for another one next year. She completed her first marathon this year in Edinburgh (yep, the trip I was supposed to be on) and completed the 1000 mile Land’s End to John O’Groats bike ride with me last year. Despite her limited vision she navigated us both throughout the trip. Her limited vision and sense of direction still much better than mine! As well as her athletic feats she has a part time job as a carer and is a senior leader with the Samaritans ….she is also a very good and supportive friend and I feel very lucky to know her.
The next morning we all woke a little bleary eyed and very grateful that parkrun starts at 9.30 in Ireland! Yay a lie in 🙂 It would be our first event together this year. As usual Tara was super organised and guided us on the 40 minute walk to Ormeau Park.
It was a very pretty park and I wish I had taken more photos, but we arrived with just enough time to find the start location within the park – parks can be big – and dump all our stuff with Michelle, who we made get up early for just this job – Thanks Michelle 🙂 We also left the park in hurry to get back to our hotel breakfast which finished at 11am – so no photo chances then either.
So… two laps, the first was 2km and the second 3km. It was nice and flat and had about 300 runners. It was a cloudy autumnal day and a good temperature for running. No rain – yay!
We all ran together for a while before Tara picked up the pace and got ahead. I stayed with Adi – I don’t really have more than one pace and I was running it. As usual at the 1km mark I was thinking “how am I going to run 5km” I heard Adi voice the same thing when she heard my watch buzz the 1km. But of course we all got round. Tara slowed a bit having not run since July due to injury and Adi and I plodded on. I managed to just get under 30 minutes – 29.59!!! Adi and Tara were close behind.
Everyone was pleased with their run and it was a great way to start the day. Michelle had a nice time chatting with some other spectators too and shouted out encouragement as we went by. Apparently, she found out, there was a 92 year old lady running that day – wow – that’s going to be me one day! I checked the results later and there was a runner in the 85-89 category (I wonder if it doesn’t go higher) with a time of 43 minutes! I think we saw her at the end but like I say we were rushing back for breakfast lol!
The weekend continued with a visit to the Titanic museum in the afternoon, the Titanic was built at the shipping yard in Belfast – definitely worth a visit. By the end of the day we were all exhausted – my watch said we had walked 26000 steps ! A pub meal and a few drinks followed by an early night. On Sunday we were back out sight seeing on the City Hop on Hop off bus. We hopped on and stayed on for the full 90 minutes tour. They made me sit upstairs in the open top section…..we all froze lol! But it was great to see the city and for Tara to visit areas she was not allowed to go 20 years ago. We passed the hospital where her life was saved….it seemed very real then.
I wonderful weekend with special people….. we are already planning the next one!
Event 44 done!