I competed in Quest Glendalough this April past. The same time one year ago, I was convalescing from a heart transplant.
Being fit has always been important to me. Despite being born with congenital heart disease and undergoing open heart surgery as a baby I had a relatively normal childhood. I was always into fitness which eventually led to being part of the Irish freestyle kayak team when I was in my late teens.
A few years later having just completed an expedition to the White Nile in Uganda with some of the my Irish teammates I fell ill again. I had to undergo surgery which meant kayaking would be off the agenda for some time. It was around that time I got into mountain biking and swimming more – these were more acceptable forms of exercise for someone with my condition. I just got on with it and enjoyed these other sports as much as I could.
However, in 2015 that all changed again. Having become very unwell I was diagnosed with having end stage heart failure, I was admitted to hospital and spent the next nine months being cared for, going through test after test. When I was finally approved for heart transplant surgery the focus shifted to getting the right heart. This was an extremely difficult time for me, my wife and my two young kids, who got to see their daddy for about 1 hour a week. I was called seven times about a potential donor heart – and seven times it emerged that the heart was incompatible. Finally, on the eight occasion we had a match.
Recovering from heart surgery is a slow process which I dealt with by focusing on one goal at a time, walking for a few steps, walking for 2 mins, walking the length of the hospital corridor and so on until I could walk 15km without stopping. Then I decided it was time to start running, which, funnily, I had never really done before despite my involvement in other sport. My initial significant goal was to complete a 5KM run. Once I did that the big prize was to be Quest Glendalough.
I’d always loved kayaking and I’d gained experience in biking too, plus the running it was the ideal event for me. I ended up doing the race with my two brothers, and when my friends from work caught wind of what we were doing they also got on board. It was a fantastic day, there was such a good vibe and being part of it felt great. People didn’t know my story and I didn’t know there’s but we were all in it together, excited and nervous at the same time. It felt brilliant to make it over the finish line and I’m getting ready for Quest Achill in September and Killarney in October. I think I’ve caught that rumoured adventure race bug.
An added benefit to taking part in Quest Glendalough, was that it gave me a chance to raise awareness of organ donation and how important it is to ‘have the chat’. People know the iconic adventure race and its challenge, that coupled with a post heart transplant patient taking part raised over €1500, which my employers Kilsaran International matched. So, together we raised more than €3200 for the Irish Heart and Lung Transplant Association. I can’t explain what a difference has been made to my life by this charity and the staff of the Mater Hospital. Having experienced what I have I would encourage everyone to consider organ donation and #havethechatwith your loved ones to let them know your wishes. I’d also say, challenge yourself, you’ll be surprised what you’re capable of.
I never thought I’d take part in an adventure race, but Quest Adventure races are the ideal goal for individuals to set themselves. No matter what their background or story, with distances to suit and challenge everyone’s needs. So go on sign up and challenge yourself, who knows where it will lead!