All-Ireland winner turned community champion takes on the Pacific

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When it comes to outdoor pursuits, local youth worker Shane Brunker has tried his hand at most, including winning the Tom Markham Cup at corner back with Down in 1977, but tackling waves the size of houses is a new one for the adopted Londonderry man as he sails off on the gruelling Clipper Race on board the Derry~Londonderry~Doire.

Shane is among five bursary candidates who will be testing their endurance skills taking part in the year-long ocean race, widely acknowledged as one of the biggest physical challenges in sailing.

Crews of 20 people man the 70 foot racing yachts as they compete in up to 16 races circumnavigating 40,000 nautical miles across the globe, living in confined spaces and working ten hour shifts for long periods at sea.

Having set-off from Qingdao for the 6th leg of the year-long ocean challenge, Shane’s journey will carry him 5,700 miles over 30 days finishing in Seattle at the end of April – where he hopes to meet up with some local charity groups, and a school with some special ties to the city through their work with Oakgrove College.

Shane’s work with local charity the Foyle Down Syndrome Trust and the formation of the Happy Mondays 21 Club, is what brought him to the attention of Derry City and Strabane District Council in their search for community champions to take part in the event.

“I started out as a youth worker and a teacher, and I spent a long time working as a sports lecturer at Limavady College,” he explained. “After this I went on to manage the Strand Foyer, before I decided to go out on my own freelance, working with various types of groups in the community.

“I worked for a while with the Foyle Down Syndrome Trust, before starting the Happy Mondays 21 Club, which offers a personal development programme for young people with Down’s Syndrome through a range of social activities and outdoor pursuits.

“The idea behind the group was to provide opportunities for them to get active and learn new skills such as skiing, surfing, canoeing etc, which have had a really positive impact. So for example we went from training on the indoor ski slopes in Glasgow, to skiing on the slopes of Andora and Bulgaria.”

With regular storms to contend with, crew members taking part in the gruelling challenge must rely on their stamina and agility not to mention a strong stomach to see them through some of the more turbulent areas. As a former GAA Minors champion playing for Down, Shane is used to pushing himself to the limit. And he hopes that the adventure will be a personal learning experience which will help with his future youth work and perhaps open up the opportunity for his groups to take part in more advanced sailing activities.

“I’ve always been involved in outdoor pursuits and I’ve travelled a lot over the years. I’ve cycled around India, Africa and most of Europe, including the Camino. But I must admit unless I had been nominated for the Clipper bursary award I would never have thought of taking on the race.

“I think that the training taught me that I’m a good all-rounder, I’m physically able for the challenge and I was fairly competent at all the tasks. And the sea sickness wasn’t an issue for me - fingers crossed.

“The actual seamanship was the biggest challenge but I’m getting to grips with this. And the logistics of the day to day routine - getting up on deck as quickly as you can for your shift to relieve other crew members. Sleep deprivation can also be a challenge and you have to remember that you are always racing, so the timing is a real issue.”

Having completed his training Shane admits that some of his good intentions may have fallen by the wayside but he has been getting some first rate advice from some seafaring veterans.

“I’ve been getting some great advice from Shayne McClure who did the same race leg as me in 2012. He had such an amazing time that he’s still living the experience and he’s made so many good friends among the other crews.

“You definitely get sucked into the whole camaraderie of it and the sense of being part of a big family so I’m looking forward to just being a part of it all.”

You can follow Shane’s journey on the Derry~Londonderry~Doire and all the Clipper Race 2015-16 action at clipperroundtheworld.com