Claire Lambe, who rowed for Ireland at the Rio 2016 Olympic, gives weekly live exercise sessions from her home in Cork via Zoom to fellow Sanctuary Runners - many of whom are in Direct Provision centres across Ireland. (Photo montage: Clare Keogh)

Olympians, asylum Seekers and refugees are virtually coming together every week to exercise thanks to an innovative project led by former Irish Olympian Claire Lambe.

A member of the Sanctuary Runners’ Movement, which uses running and exercise to bring together those in Direct Provision with the rest of Irish society, Lambe gives #SanctuaryStrength exercise classes online each Saturday morning with hundreds logging on to stay in shape. 

And what’s more, she’s roped in fellow Olympians to film videos in their homes and back gardens which Sanctuary Runners can access during the week.

“The Sanctuary Runners’ now has over 2,000 members across Ireland with about a quarter coming from Direct Provision centres. Normally we’d meet up to run every week but because of the Covid-19 crisis that’s not possible – so I thought why not use technology to connect people and ensure they stay fit and healthy during this – even if they are living in the confined space of a Direct Provision centre.”

Each Saturday morning at 11am Sanctuary Runners (both Irish and in Direct Provision) log into Zoom for a half hour of energetic exercise hosted by Claire.

‘Making a massive impact’

The Sanctuary Runners is a not-for-profit Movement (not a charity) which was established in Cork in January 2018 and was named as one of Europe’s best Social Inclusion in Sport Initiatives by the European Commission in 2019.

Founder, Fermoy man Graham Clifford, said the #SanctuaryStrength initiative enables people to show solidarity, friendship and respect to those in Direct Provision during the Covid 19 crisis.

“For people living in Direct Provision the ability to exercise now will be greatly diminished. And people in centres are stressed because the chance of catching the virus is greater than for the rest of us. Many are living in confined spaces, sharing bedrooms, bathrooms, eating areas and so on. This enables people to exercise, to feel that virtual hand of friendship over their shoulder.

“We also have all of our Irish Sanctuary Runners – people exercising together as families from their kitchens, hallways, bedrooms, back gardens and even farms. Claire, and all the other Olympians, are making a massive impact to the lives of so many people through this. This is the epitome of the Olympic Spirit.”

Other Irish Olympians have joined the #SanctuaryStrength initiative:

“Olympic Silver medallist Annalise Murphy sent us a workout last week from her back garden which we were able to share with everyone. Thomas Barr, Sanita Puspure and Natalya Coyle have also filmed exercises and we’re so grateful to them. And Ciarán O’Lionáird is sending some exercises all the way from the States. We hope to add some more well-known names in the weeks ahead,” Claire explained.

If you would like to join the Sanctuary Runners, and take part in the #SanctuaryStrength exercise sessions drop us an email to