A LETTERKENNY man has raised almost a million dollars to help treat and prevent blindness in Third World countries.
Mike Toner from Middle Road, Ballyraine, raised $231,035 for the Fred Hollows Foundation in his latest fundraising event in Melbourne earlier this month – bringing the total past the $990,000 mark.
Mike (44), who has called Australia home for the past eighteen years, is based in Melbourne where he runs ‘Thick as Thieves’ a touring and events company that has been bringing the best underground DJs to Australia since 2009.
Earlier this month, 140 legends from the Electronic Music industry took part in the inaugural #Quickasthieves2020 running event for the Fred Hollows Foundation.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week, Mike paid tribute to those who took part in the event which saw runners complete either a half, full or ultra marathon.
“Over the course of the year, the community of runners have done an incredible job of motivating each other to get fit and healthy and stay socially connected, which has in turn had a huge positive impact on the mental health of the group as a whole, in what has been the most challenging year for the music industry on record. At $25 to restore the gift of sight, this money ($231,035) will help restore the sight of 9,250 people,” he said.
The son of Margaret and the late Michael Toner, Mike has two brothers Gavin (USA) and Emmet (Belfast) and one sister Louise who lives in Letterkenny
When he first moved to Australia Mike worked on the building sites before taking a job in a record store.
“I went out on a one-year visa and ended up falling in love with the place and staying. I really enjoy the lifestyle and I get a lot out of helping the Fred Hollows Foundation.
“We’ve almost reached the one million mark but I always say that it’s not a target, it’s a milestone because it is something that I will continue to do until the day I die – I feel so passionate about it.” he said.
Mike got the opportunity to see the work of the doctors and nurse first hand when work colleagues paid for his trip to Cambodia to mark his fortieth birthday in 2016.
“I was blown away by that experience. We went into a rural village where they had set up a makeshift operating theatre that comprised of three tables and it was like a production line. The patient would lie on the first bed where a nurse would spray a liquid into the eye before another nurse would inject a needle into the eyeball once it was numb. Finally, the doctor on table three would use a scalpel to cut out the cataract, insert a lens and then patch up the eye.
“The patients would come back the next day when the patch would be removed leaving them with perfect vision – all for $25 which would hardly buy you a burger in Australia.
“The doctor was doing eighty to one hundred procedures a day and I found the emotion of seeing someone who was able to see for maybe the first time in ten years incredibly moving,” he said.
“There’s a statistic out there that four out of every five people who are blind could have their eyesight restored for $25 but they’ve either no access to the surgery or simply can’t afford it,” he added.
One of the participants in this year’s event was legendary DJ and producer Carl Cox who has had cataract surgery himself this year.
“He understands the importance of this work and was so generous with his time and helping us raise even more money than what we hoped,” he said.
Mike was back in Donegal last Christmas and he tries to get home as least once a year.
“In this line of work it can be hard getting away at Christmas but I decided last year that I had enough of the heat and wanted to get back to the cold weather,” he laughed.
“Mum came out last year as we celebrated the tenth anniversary of my company. I ran a few big events and mum got to see a bit of what I do,” he said.
“We host dance events all over Victoria. We bring in a lot of international DJs from the US and Europe and I’ll help co-ordinate their tours across the rest of Australia and New Zealand,” he explained.
While business has been good over the past decade, 2020 was quieter than usual due to the coronavirus but it allowed Mike more time to give to his fundraising efforts.
“The Foundation is remarkable and they do amazing work. Four years ago, a few of us took part in an endurance event to raise money. I put it out on social media this year and got 140 people signed up. Part of the deal was that they each had to raise at least $1,000 so I knew that I had $140,000 before we started but the figure raised was closer to a quarter of a million when all was said and done,” he said.
Originally, the group had planned to take part in the Great Ocean Road Running Festival in May. It was moved to August before being cancelled.
“We had been training all along so I contacted the council and they allowed me to organise my own event and #Quickasthieves was born.
“We hope to make it an annual event and the goal next year is to have three to four hundred people taking part and to raise half a million dollars in the one day,” he said.
While this year’s event took place on Friday, December 4, Mike hopes to push it back to earlier in the year in 2021.
“It’s the middle of the summer here now and it was boiling hot. More than a week on I’m still sunburnt and there’s chaffing in places that I didn’t know existed,” he laughed.
Looking ahead, Mike says that while he has a few small gigs lined up over the Christmas holiday period it will be some time yet before he’s hosting any major events.
“It will be the middle of next year before the dust really settles here,” he admitted.
In the meantime, he will continue to run and fundraise for the Fred Hollows Foundation.