Jim Copeland, described as Northern Ireland’s answer to the late Captain Sir Tom Moore who raised millions for NHS charities by walking up and down his garden, is using an exercise bike to complete a virtual journey around Ireland of more than 1,000 km (621 miles) in order to raise money for a charity created in memory of his granddaughter.
Mr Copeland, like Captain Moore, is a World War Two veteran having served in the Home Guard.
He started his challenge in August last year, cycling two to three kilometres a day and had completed a 180km journey by the winter with a virtual route comprising all the towns where he had lived during his life, including Waringstown, Bangor, Dungannon, Killyman and finishing in the town of his birth – Aughnacloy.
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He set himself a new target for 2022, to complete a virtual route around Ireland – from Belfast to Dublin, then to Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Sligo, Londonderry and back again to Belfast – a distance of 1,056km.
He is due to complete his latest challenge six months ahead of schedule, with a special fundraising event on Saturday week at Craigavon Lakes.
The cycling challenge is in aid of a charity set up in memory of his late granddaughter Charlene Barr, who died in October 2010 at the age of 20.
Charlene, who had cystic fibrosis, was in hospital waiting on a life-saving double lung transplant when she set up ‘Charlene’s Project’ in 2008.
She had visited Uganda with her family the year before and was so moved by the poverty that she launched a fund in the last months of her life to build a school there.
She managed to raise £120,000 and the school was established, but she sadly never got to see the building completed before her death.
The current fundraising effort is to pay for ‘Stage 2’ of the school, with a boys’ boarding block, roads, water and power connections included.
Mr Copeland’s son-in-law, Dickie Barr, said: “Poppa Jim is no ordinary 95-year-old.
“With failing health during lockdown he started doing a little bit on a cycling machine to help his sore knees. The rest is history.”
He continued: “He will have just reached his 96th birthday as he continues fundraising for Stage 2 of ‘Charlene Secondary school’ in Uganda.
“Stage 2 includes the boys’ boarding block, administrative block, shower block, solar installation, providing generator back up, ensuring internet connection to the school, completing landscaping and roads, paths and kerbing for the school, and extending water provision.”