A large number of participants and spectators are expected at ‘Dessie’s Run for Africa’ organised as a tribute to popular Coalisland man Dessie Symington who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer.
A well known figure in the area, 66-year-old Dessie has entertained on the music scene for decades, and indeed wrote songs about local heroes that became iconic back in the 1980s.
Dessie entertained thousands of people who crushed into the square in Coalisland on the never-to-be-forgotten day in May 1985 when Dennis Taylor returned home with the World Snooker trophy. Indeed he wrote a song for the occasion, ‘Here’s to Dennis Taylor’, which featured on a CD by the group ‘Taylormade’ the following year with ‘Come on Tyrone’ a song he also penned that was on the lips of all GAA supporters as Tyrone reached their first All Ireland senior final. The group Taylormade included Dessie and his brother Patrick.
The event on Saturday, July 24 is being organised by his sister Tracy in conjunction with the Fianna Runners.
Tracy, who is an avid runner, explained that Dessie did a ‘Couch to 5K’ with the running club in late 2019 and made great strides in increasing his fitness. He continued his regime with daily walks and runs and was in good health until recently when he took pains in his stomach. Doctors discovered he had cancer in his bowel which had also spread to his liver and, the following day, he underwent an operation to remove a large part of his bowel.
Tracy explained, “We are trying to raise awareness of the importance of fitness. The doctor told Dessie that if he hadn’t been as fit, he wouldn’t have got through the operation as well as he did. The diagnosis has been a big shock but the run will be something positive.”
Dessie’s 5k Run for Africa is free but donations can be made on the day to the Franciscan Missionaries for Africa, a favourite charity of Dessie, and the Na Fianna Runners. However Tracy emphasised that there is no fee for taking part and no obligation on anyone to donate money.
A carpenter by trade, in 2013 he built a life-size crib for a church in Belfast where he also played the part of Joseph as part of a Christmas appeal to help children in Syria, Gaza and Kenya.
“It is a fun event and is about everyone coming out together and making memories,” Tracy explained. “We also want to give back to the Fianna club and say, we appreciate what they do for people. It’s not about the fittest or fastest, but inclusiveness for all.”
Dessie who has three grandchildren and six grandchildren is expected to attend the event.
His sister added, “He’ll be there, with the help of God. He’s doing really well and getting on with things and living life as best he can. Dessie is loved by all his family and those who know him and this means a lot to us. We want to get the community together and there will be tea and a chance for chat.”
The run (or walk) starts at 9am on Saturday, July 24, from Coalisland Fianna GAA club with the Symington family looking forward to seeing as many people as possible on the day.