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November 2023
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Irish Members Go Long Distance

By Paul Sterman


Two men in yellow shirts smiling after marathon
Belfast Toastmasters club members Tony O’Callaghan and Phil Sturgeon at the Belfast City Marathon.

The seven Toastmasters stood together, readying themselves for the start of the Belfast City Marathon. All members of the Belfast Toastmasters club in Northern Ireland, they were teaming up to each run a leg of the 26.2-mile (42.2-km) race, relay-style, with one member aiming to run the whole distance.

It was time for some encouraging words—and these being Toastmasters, a couple of them delivered impromptu pep talks to the group.

“It was all about establishing a positive mindset,” recalls Phil Sturgeon, one of the members, and an admitted running novice. “I know for some of us, like myself, we were very nervous. We were used to running solo and suddenly you were among thousands of people who were much more fit than you.”

Whether it was the positive words, the mutual support, or the group running sessions over the previous months, the Toastmasters triumphed in the October 2021 event. Aidan McCann completed the entire race, while the other six (Sturgeon, Lynsey Quinn, Andrew Dawson, Tony O’ Callaghan, Lee Maguire, and Martin McClean) ran segments of approximately 5 or 6 miles (8 to 10 km). Their effort, which raised nearly 2,500 USD for cancer research, drew the club members closer.

“There was a real sense of camaraderie,” says Sturgeon, an Area Director in District 71. “These people were colleagues before, but they were friends by the end of the race, because we had shared something both painful and worthwhile.”

The Toastmasters also added their own twist to the endurance event. As each member finished their leg of the run, they asked a question of their fellow member running the next segment, such as “What music do you listen to while running?” or “Which runner has inspired you the most?” The member receiving the handoff question responded before embarking on their run.

“It got us talking, so it wasn’t a high five and away you go,” says Sturgeon. “You had the opportunity to wish your buddy good luck and give them a slap on the back by giving them a Table Topic before they sped off.”

At the end of the race, he adds, the group of Belfast members were exhausted but happy. “And then we all left for a Guinness afterward just to refuel and recharge ourselves.” Building rapport and learning more about fellow members are among the benefits of doing things together outside the club. For the Belfast Toastmasters, these activities tend to be outdoors and exercise oriented. Besides the marathon, members also participate in the Walk and Talk, an annual summer excursion that draws members from various clubs around Ireland.

Stephen Morrow, a member of the Lagan Valley Toastmasters in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, organizes the Walk and Talk. He selects a pristine spot—typically a beach or a mountain—where Toastmasters can walk and chat in groups. After a while, they stop and hold a session with speeches, evaluations, and other aspects of a club meeting.

Last year, members from six different Irish clubs gathered to ascend Slieve Binnian, a Northern Ireland peak with dramatic views. One member was Lee Maguire, also one of the seven Toastmasters who ran in the Belfast City Marathon. Now a member of the Monaghan Toastmasters in County Monaghan, Ireland, he says the Walk and Talk is a great bonding activity. “I have enjoyed meeting and getting acquainted with Toastmasters from across Ireland who have diverse backgrounds,” Maguire says.


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