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Laura Graham named Sportswoman of the Month for October

National marathon title win in Dublin a big surprise for Co Down mother-of-four

Laura Graham celebrates completing the 2016 Dublin Marathon at Merrion Square in Dublin City. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It’s a common enough motivation among those sufficiently valiant to take on the challenge of running 26 miles, 385 yards that they want to raise money for a charity working to combat an illness suffered by a loved one.

Laura Graham was one such competitor, making her marathon debut in Belfast six years ago in a fundraising effort for ‘Northern Ireland Chest, Heart & Stroke’, a charity she was drawn to after her father’s heart attack and other close family members had suffered strokes.

Graham completed the race in three hours and 45 minutes. Job done.

But then work and the arrival of three more children, to add to her first born who was four months old when she ran in Belfast, resulted in her marathon exploits being put on hold.

Two years ago, though, she ran her second marathon, this time in three hours and 19 minutes, and the bug began to bite.

Still, despite her improvement and the sense that she had found her sporting calling, the 30-year-old from Kilkeel in Co Down can hardly have imagined that her sixth run at the distance, in October 2016, would be completed in a time of 2:41:54, enough to make her 10th overall and the first Irish woman home in the Dublin City Marathon. It also won her the title of National Champion.

Graham came in ahead of Caitríona Jennings (2:44:59) and the 2015 winner Pauline Curley (2:48:38), knocking six minutes off her previous best, which she set in London in April, and adding a gold to the bronze she won in the race last year.

A treadmill

Her four children, aged between three and six, were in Dublin to witness her triumph, one that took even her by surprise, Graham unaware that she was the leading Irish runner.

Much of her training the past few years has been done on a treadmill at home, allowing her to keep an eye on her rather energetic young children, or jogging with a buggy while taking them out for a blast of fresh air.

Her sporting background was largely confined to some running and hockey in her school days, but she since resuming running she has found it to be the perfect stress reliever and mind-clearer.  

Graham works in her local leisure centre in Kilkeel and is a member of Mourne Runners AC where she is coached by Brian Maxwell, having initially not been a member of any club at all.

She insisted after the Dublin Marathon that she still doesn’t see herself as an elite athlete, but her winning time isn’t too far short of the 2:38:00 qualifying time for the 2017 World Championships.

Intentionally or not, all that work on her treadmill at home has taken Graham from the ‘fun-runner’ category to national champion in no time at all.

Movies have been made out of less.

Previous monthly winners (awards run from December 2015 to November 2016, inclusive).

December: Fionnuala McCormack (Athletics). McCormack just missed out on an individual medal at the European Cross Country Championships in France, finishing fourth, but led the Irish team, completed by Lizzie Lee, Caroline Crowley and Ciara Durkan, to bronze. She went on to finish 20th in the Olympic marathon, producing a personal best time.

January: Áine McKenna (Basketball). The Kerry woman won the Most Valuable Player award for her performance in the National Cup final when she captained Glanmire club Team Montenotte in their outstanding 96-64 victory over Killester.

February: Ciara Mageean (Athletics). On the comeback trail from a serious ankle problem, the runner from Portaferry, Co Down broke two Irish indoor records in February, the 1,500m and the mile, one 16 years old, the other seven. She went on to win bronze in the 1,500m at the European Championships in July and, in Rio, reached the semi-finals in the same event.

March: Nina Carberry (Horse Racing). For the second year running Carberry won the Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham on the Enda Bolger-trained On The Fringe, making it three victories in the race in all, and six career victories at The Festival.

April: Ellis O’Reilly (Gymnastics). The 18-year-old became the first woman to represent Ireland in gymnastics at the Olympic Games after she qualified through the test event in Rio in April.

May: Kellie Harrington (Boxing). The Dubliner won silver in her first ever World Championships, beating opponents from Lithuania, Germany, Kazakhstan and Canada before losing out to China’s Asian champion Wenlu Yang in the light-welterweight final.  

June: Leona Maguire, Olivia Mehaffey and Maria Dunne (Golf). The trio contributed nine-and-a-half of Britain and Ireland’s 11½ points on their way to reclaiming the Curtis Cup from the United States at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club. Later, Maguire tied for 21st at the Olympics, producing a sparkling 65 in her second round.

July: Jenny Egan (Canoeing). The disappointment of narrowly missing out on Olympic qualification for the second Games running didn’t stop Egan from having a hugely successful summer, the highlights coming in Portugal and the Czech Republic where she won gold and silver World Cup medals, making her the only Irish canoeist, male or female, to medal in World Cup events.

August: Annalise Murphy (Sailing). Four years after the shattering disappointment of just missing out on a medal in London, Murphy replaced the pain with joy when she took silver in Rio.

September: Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal (Cycling). The pair enjoyed a hugely successful Paralympics in Rio, winning silver in the Road Race and gold in the Road Time Trial when they finished 33 seconds ahead of their Japanese rivals.