GAA Football

Remembering Martina: Husband Ronan heads up Mourne challenge fundraiser in memory of late wife

Martina Sexton passed away before Christmas after a battle with cancer. Her husband Ronan, along with other family and friends, have embarked on a fundraising effort in aid of Cancer Focus
Neil Loughran

WHEN searching for inspiration, Ronan Sexton had to look no further than out the front window. Martina always loved the outdoors, loved to get out into the open air and the sprawling countryside that surrounded them - there could be no better place to honour her memory.

Martina Sexton passed away on December 11, 2020 following a battle with cancer. She was 40.

The grief is still raw, but family and friends will channel their energies into a two-pronged fundraiser in aid of Cancer Focus over the coming months, starting with the Mourne Seven Summits Challenge on Saturday, June 19.

Later in the year, on October 3, former Down footballer Ronan and his brother-in-law, Peter Lundy, will run the London Marathon.

The swell of support since details of the fundraiser were first posted has been astonishing, the money but moreso the messages a clear demonstration of the esteem in which Martina was held by all those whose lives she touched.

For Ronan, their daughter Charlotte and the wider family circle, it has provided a welcome focus at the most trying of times.

“It’s still very tough,” said the Mayobridge man.

“Martina was first diagnosed six years ago, but she went through a gruelling treatment and got past that… the third of April last year would’ve been five years and they sort of hold that up as a benchmark; that you’re doing well if you get past that five year mark.

“But Martina went into hospital on Christmas Eve 2019, she wasn’t feeling well, and it was after Christmas we got the news. It was horrific, very traumatic for us all to hear that again. In January, February, March last year, we were just in shock.

“When I look back, I don’t know how Martina got through it, and even then she was still always thinking of others and trying to help others. We were hoping and praying we could prolong things with the different lines of treatment… everybody’s journey is different and there is always hope. Martina never lost hope.

“Along the way we met an awful lot of good people too, people who help others in their darkest hour. Often you might not hear about these people, you’re maybe not introduced to them until you’re in that position but the people we met, the support they gave us was incredible.

“Through that time we leaned very heavily on our faith - it played a huge part for Martina and myself throughout. Without it, I don’t know what we’d have done.”

Faith continues to play a central part in everyday life, though some solace was also found in a book passed on by a friend.

Breath of Sadness: Love, life and cricket is author Ian Ridley’s moving tribute to his late wife, sports journalist Vikki Orvice. It resonated deeply in the weeks that followed Martina’s passing.

“A good friend of mine, Ciaran Lynch, gave it to me just after Christmas and said ‘read it when you’re ready to read it’. I read it over the next couple of nights, and it was just amazing. I felt like I’d written a couple of the chapters myself… his journey was very similar.

“The reality is there are thousands of families going through this all the time, and it’s a very difficult path to walk. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with it, you just have to find your own way.

“I’ve tried to stay busy and probably for Charlotte and for myself, that’s a better way.”

In recent weeks Ronan, a primary school teacher at St Colman’s in Saval, has started a Masters degree at St Mary’s University College. He will also manage the Saval senior side for a second year once the club season commences.

And when the idea of a fundraiser was first discussed, there was no other place to look than the great outdoors.

“Martina loved walking - most of our Sundays, if we weren’t at football we’d have been at Kilbroney or Tollymore. We got into the caravanning as well, all around the south of Ireland, it was just something she loved doing, spending time outdoors.

“A lot of people are reconnecting with it at the moment. Walking and running is all you can do, and I’ve really just been outdoors since Martina passed.

“Another thing that was in my head was Martina and I had always planned to do the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrim’s walk. Every week we would talk about it, then there was a programme on TV and Martina would say ‘if I get better we’re definitely going to do this’.

“Martina’s brother Edward had said to me we’ll definitely do that in memory of Martina… obviously with the way things are in terms of travel, it’s out of the question for now. But then I came across the Cancer Focus event and thought ‘why not do it on our own doorstep?’”

Still fit as a flea despite hanging up the boots a few years back, and with his running mate Peter Lundy playing for St Brigid’s in Belfast, October’s marathon should be manageable with the proper training – even if it is his first crack at the 26.2 mile distance.

For the Seven Summits Challenge, though, a group of 12 are planning to tackle the 18-mile walk across the Mournes. It will take a special effort, but then they are celebrating the life of a special person, for a special cause.

“I love giving towards charity, it probably doesn’t sit well asking people for donations. I’m not a big man for posting on social media or asking for things really, but this is not about me - it’s about the charities and the families that are going to benefit from it. That’s what’s important.

“We didn’t actually use any of the services provided by Cancer Focus… we were still trying to deal with the whole diagnosis and the treatment, and obviously Covid was a big factor too because you couldn’t go anywhere.

“But they offered plenty and when I looked into what they do, especially for young children suffering from cancer and their families, you can see it’s a charity that deserves all the support it can get.

“Hopefully we are able to help in some way by doing this.”

To make a donation to the fundraiser in memory of Martina Sexton, just visit the Just Giving page at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ronan-sexton

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