When you hear a medical professional referring to your physical state in those terms, you would have to be an idiot not to at least make an effort to do something about it. So I did. In July of 2012 my Dad helped me to weigh myself using an industrial weighing scales that he had kept since his days of running the country shop, when it would have been used to weigh bags of animal food stuffs. I had to sit on this weighing scales, and from where I was I couldn’t see the gauges where he was calculating my weight, so I had to take his word when he told me what it was (and this would become an issue in the ensuing months when I sometimes wondered if he was telling me my actual weight or leading me to believe that I might have been a couple of pounds over my actual weight in order to keep me working hard). On that first day, I weighed exactly eighteen stone, at least according to my Dad!
I had asked my GP and also a dietician he had referred me to, who I admittedly only attended once because I wouldn’t be great for following the advice of someone like that, what my ideal weight should be but unfortunately neither seemed able to do so. At least, that is how I remember it. So I set myself a target of getting down to fourteen stone. Why fourteen? I have no idea. It was just something to aim for. Completely unrealistic, but a target nonetheless.
So it was that around this time I embarked on that VERY short push that I mentioned at the beginning. I planned to push myself to a neighbour’s house and back, a round trip of about 400 metres. I didn’t make it. I got home after about fifteen minutes with my tail between my legs.
As I was unemployed at the time I was able to dedicate a lot of time to trying to get fit, and persistence eventually paid off and I got to a point where I was pushing myself to the nearest townland and home again, a distance of about 8 or 9 kilometres, maybe two or three days a week. I was lucky in that I lived right on a four-cross roads and each road offered varying degrees of difficulty so I was able to try one road for a few months until I started to find it too easy and then move on to travelling on another road. All of this was done using my regular everyday wheelchair, which at that time I had already owned for nine years.
I weighed myself weekly, usually on a Thursday, and in early August 2013 I took a major step, I travelled the 44 kilometres to Annascaul to participate in my first ever 5km road race, using my everyday wheelchair. I completed it in approximately fifty-seven minutes and even got my poor Dad to walk it because, as I have a terrible sense of direction, I had an irrational fear of getting lost! I followed it up with the best-tasting lunch ever in Tom Crean’s pub, The South Pole Inn. Celebrating the beginning of my adventure in the home of another adventurer! I even had dessert, my reward for the effort I had put in!
I reached my goal of fourteen stone in May 2013, having lost four stone in nine-and-a-half months. I then re-adjusted my goal to try to reach twelve stone, as I thought it would be cool to lose one-third of my body weight, and I achieved this in May 2014.
I had been using the athletics track at the An Riocht Athletics Club in Castleisland on-and-off for exercise and through my use of their facilities. I started to become aware of other fun-run and road race events around the county. I have competed in road races held by An Riocht over the last five years, as well as the Feet First and Gneeveguilla Athletic Club’s 5k series in Killarney. I have also participated in races in Killorglin (where I had the only crash of my career, which resulted in a trip to A & E), Tralee, Kenmare, Banna, Coachford, Rathmore, Galway, Dromtrasna, Causeway, Listowel, Lyreacrompane, Clonakilty, Buttevant, and others that I’ve probably forgotten!
When I first started participating in races there was the obvious fear of “stepping” into the complete unknown, but the racing community never questioned my participation which made it all the easier. Aside from the obvious physical benefits of participating, just having the opportunity to get out and meet people was wonderful for my mental wellbeing and I never once met a person who questioned my right to participate. My fellow runners even fundraised to enable me to buy my very own sports chair to do my races. This was a specially designed racing chair. Unfortunately, it didn’t suit me and after a short time, I returned to my old reliable. Still, I find it frustrating, and disappointing, that in all the races I have completed I have only encountered two other participants with obvious disabilities – Jerry Forde and Ross Gallagher.