Q Radio presenter Sonya Mac serves up charity Christmas dinner

Jenny Lee talks turkey, fitness and fundraising with Q Radio DJ Sonya Mac, who will donning her apron this Christmas Day to cook dinner for 120 guests

Sonya Mac takes a few moments to put her feet up ahead of organising two Christmas dinner sittings for a total of 120 people. Picture by Hugh Russell

SONYA Mac will have no time to put her feet this Christmas as she will be making a traditional four-course festive dinner with all the trimmings for 120 people, in aid of two cancer charities.

This is the second consecutive year the popular DJ has undertaken such a mammoth task in her Eats Healthy cafe in Newtownards.

The death of her father James three years ago, after a short battle with stomach cancer, sparked the idea. Sonya and her mum Rosemary, like many other families who have lost a loved one, found Christmas very difficult.

"With two weeks solid prepping and two dinner sittings, this certainly isn't the relaxing in front of the TV with a selection box that I was used to when Dad was about. But after dad passed away mum and I were just sitting looking at each other over Christmas dinner.

"This gives us a purpose on Christmas Day, as well as, of course, the opportunity to raise the money and awareness for the charities.

"We had a few people come along last year who spent Christmas alone, families who had been bereaved and others who wanted to support people affected by cancer," says Sonya, who combines working in the cafe with presenting her popular show on Q Radio.

A minimum donation of £25 and £15 for children is suggested, with proceeds going to Cancer Research UK again and Cancer Fund for Children.

Local singer-songwriter Fiona McCourt will be bringing along her guitar and singing some festive songs, while there will be Christmas movies for the children.

Sonya is grateful to help of her mum and a number of volunteers who help prepare and serve the dinners. She would also like to thanks the businesses that have donated produce and encouraged others to consider donating food, serviettes or crackers to make it a special Christmas.

So are her charity Christmas dinners going to become an annual event?

"I said last year 'Never again', but I've done it. I can't guarantee we will do it next year, but we will wait and see what happens," she laughs.

When she isn't working in the cafe or on radio, Sonya can be found pounding the roads and parks keeping fit. Although she admits she was the type of teenager who got her mum to write a note to excuse her from cross-country running, Sonya was bitten by the running bug when she did the New York marathon in 2010 and helping raise £20,000 for Cool FM's Cash for Kids charity appeal.

She has run 28 marathons in the past six years and raised around £80,000 for charity. This included her Macathon challenge which involved running six marathons in six days across the six counties of Northern Ireland in memory of her dad.

Sonya actually began her working career as a technology and maths teacher, teaching in an east Belfast school for three years.

"While I was teaching I was working for Q Radio, strangely enough, and DJing in pubs and clubs. I eventually gave up teaching to take up more shifts in Q in Derry and Coleraine. The next thing I got a phone call from Cool FM to come and chat to them. They gave me my first full-time DJing job and the rest, as they say, is radio history."

And although her mum used to run a restaurant when Sonya was a child, she admits that it was through running that Sonya had the idea for setting up her own healthy eating experience. "When I was doing the marathons people started asking me what do you eat? There didn't seem to be any specific places for healthy eating, so I decided to open somewhere. So I'm not just advising people, I'm actually giving the diet they are asking me for.

"We don't serve customers anything processed and everything is cooked fresh. That way we can cater for individual dietary requirements – whether it's gluten-free, vegetarian, high-protein or slimming world."

So as she does the late shift on Q Radio playing the "slowed down, chilled out tunes", what does she snack on? I don't finish on air until 2 o'clock. I make sure it's all whole foods, so nuts, blueberries, salad and that type of stuff."

Looking ahead to 2017, Sonya has many more fitness goals in sight, including taking on her toughest challenge yet in the 250km five-day Fire and Ice Ultra across Iceland in August, as well as competing in her first triathlon.

That is quite a goal considering she is only just learning to swim.

"I can't swim," she laughs. "I recently took up rugby because my legs were complaining that I was running to much – and one of the girls on the team is teaching me to swim, so I can take on a triathlon. It's a bit nuts."

Sonia has also recently taken up boxing.

"One week I took the head staggers and decided I'm going to do stuff I've never done before. It's good to do different training and mix it up a bit."

As people will soon turn their attention to new year resolutions, has she any advice on those who are considering donning their running shoes?

"Set yourself small goals and work towards them. If you want to run a marathon, start with a 'couch to 5k' or park runs and build it up. A marathon is a very daunting experience."

:: Sonya Mac presents Q Radio After Dark, weeknights from 10pm-2am. You can find Eats Healthy at 25a High Street, Newtownards and online at Facebook.

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