Whenever an extreme effort is given towards any given cause, the cliché of “going the extra mile” is often used to described the feat. Jerry O'Sullivan went the extra 7,000 miles to help others in need.
Jerry O’Sullivan, pastor at Shelter Rock Church, began training for a grueling ironman competition to help children some 7,000 miles away in Kenya.
A marathon runner for the past six years, he began training last summer for the grueling Ironman Lake Placid triathlon, held this year on July 24. Through a partnership between Shelter Rock Church and Nashville-based Hold the Children, his participation raised enough money to sponsor approximately 40 children in Mfangano Island, Kenya, where AIDS has left an extraordinarily high percentage of orphans. Two days after the race, O’Sullivan, along with a team from Shelter Rock, traveled by plane, bus and boat to the remote area of Kenya to build the children a new school. The 17-member team included Sheila Ryan, a resident of Old Bethpage.
Ironman Lake Placid is the nation’s second oldest long-distance triathlon in the series organized by the World Triathlon Corporation. Consisting of a back-to-back 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run, the course is a feat for even the most rugged athletes. O'Sullivan ran his first marathon in 2005 and soon developed an interest in triathlon. This summer, after training 15-20 hours a week throughout the entire year, he was ready to take it on.
With the support of the church, O’Sullivan set out to find donors who would sponsor 26 children – one for each mile of the marathon – to enable them to attend school and have a healthy meal each day. Knowing that raising funds for the Mfangano children depended upon his completion of all three legs of the course gave him the determination to endure to the very end. (He finished in 13 hours and 22 minutes.)
In 2006, Shelter Rock Church partnered with Hold the Children’s parent organization, Mission Discovery, to build a community center and homes for Mfangano Island widows and orphans impacted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This summer, Shelter Rock’s goal was to rebuild a primary school on the island; the school the children had been attending, when funds permitted, was a single room with a dirt floor that had no electricity or plumbing. Many of the 70 children who go to the school have lost one or both parents to AIDS and are being raised by extended family or neighbors who can't afford to pay even the meager costs that cover supplies and teacher compensation. The school is the only way many of these children have any opportunity to receive an education.
"Nelson Mandela said ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” Ryan said. “With these words as our guide and with faith in our hearts to share God’s love, we went to Kenya to stand and work beside the people on Mfangano Island to build a school."
Still recovering from the triathlon, O’Sullivan led a team of 15 volunteers from Shelter Rock and Centerpoint Church in Bellmore -- where Ryan leads worship music -- to help rebuild and expand the school into a permanent brick building. In addition, as a result of O’Sullivan’s Ironman initiative, these children will now be able to go to school and to get a daily meal for less than a $1 a day.