Olympic Athletes are getting in some serious workouts with refugees and asylum-seekers across Ireland

Like other Olympic Athletes, Irish rower Claire Lambe is adapting to the new Coronavirus restrictions by training in her living room. The only difference is that every Saturday morning, she invites some 400 people in the Sanctuary runner’s movement to join her.

“We usually meet up for park runs every Saturday and run with our friends in the Sanctuary Runners”, she says. Founded in 2018, the Sanctuary Runners encourage Irish people to run alongside, and in solidarity, with refugees and asylum-seekers in reception centres. As well as participating in Marathons and 10km runs, they organise running, jogging and walking events to bring together people in a spirit of solidarity and friendship.


Sanctuary Runners are getting refugees and Olympians in Ireland to team up online for some serious workouts  © Sanctuary Runners


However due to the Coronavirus restrictions, which prevent Irish people travelling except for essential journeys or brief exercise, the groups which meet across Ireland became frustrated that they could not exercise together.  

“So, over a chat I suggested with other members that we would do a virtual exercise class.”

Every Saturday morning for 30 minutes, people log into Zoom to do squat jumps, sit-ups and a range of other exercises as part of an initiative called ‘Sanctuary Strength’. The exercises, which allow people to train in small rooms with no equipment, have attracted a wide following. 400 people now log in for each Saturday session with other Olympians, including World Champion Rower Sanita Pušpure, Olympic Sailing medallist Annalise Murphy and 400m Hurdles finalist Thomas Barr contributing their own videos too.

It is, says Sibusisiwe ‘Busie’ Mhlophe from Zimbabwe, an excellent way to stay connected and keep fit, especially for those like herself living in reception centres.

“I find it hard to exercise especially in my room as we have limited space to continue with my exercises” she says. “I find the sanctuary strength sessions we do with Claire Lambe very useful as I am able to keep up with my exercise with my friends and the sanctuary runners.”

With people prevented from visiting friends and family during lockdown, physical distancing is proving difficult for many people says Sanctuary Runners founder Graham Clifford. That is why it is important that everyone is included in national plans to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Just as coronavirus doesn’t respect borders, social classes or legal status, we should as a people be thinking of how to keep everyone safe, everyone healthy and everyone active” he says. “And that is exactly what the sanctuary strength initiative tries to do.”

All the sessions are advertised on https://twitter.com/SanctuaryRunner, with people from around the world welcome to join.

“We get a real buzz of coming together again” says Lambe. “Just seeing the blue t-shirts on the screen and getting a bit of exercise on a Saturday morning is great.”