So here it is. The collection of fine folk who made it onto our 2014 People of the Year long list. We think they’re all heroes and we are blown away by the incredible things on the Irish outdoor scene in 2014.
For the third year running, we’re having an event to celebrate these people. This takes place from 7.30pm on Thursday 29 January 2015 at the Generator, Smithfield, Dublin 7. We hope you’ll come and join us. Tickets for the general public cost €10. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with TICKETS in the subject if you’d like your name to be on the list. The event and awards are supported by Trident Holiday Homes and Cotswold Outdoor.
On the night we’ll present selected people from the following list with the following awards:
Most Inspiring Person
Most Devoted to the Outdoor Scene
Youth of the Year
Breakthrough Performance of 2014
Outsider woman of the Year
Outsider of the Year 2014
On the night, we’ll also have awards for
Best Outdoor/Adventure Event
Best Outdoor Escape (Adventure Destination/Provider)
Best Outdoor Photo
Best Outdoor Film
The winners of these final four awards (photo, video, escape and event) will be chosen by you our readers on our Facebook page. To vote, visit: www.facebook.com/outsidermag
In the meantime, we hope you’ll enjoy and be inspired by our Outsider People of the Year 2014 long list. We think you’ll agree, they’re a fine bunch!
Photo: Micheal Petrikov
Jade O’Connor, kiteboard racer
Jade O’Connor has been Ireland’s highest ranked international kiteboarder in 2012, 2013 and 2014. But 2014 was her biggest year yet. The 43-year-old Dubliner is a kiteboard racer and in 2014 came eighth at the World Championships in Turkey, and agonisingly close to a podium finish at the European Championships 2014, Poland, where she finished fourth.
She did make the podium at other events though. She was second at the Olympic Classes Delta Lloyd Regatta in Holland and crowned British Ladies Champion. All of these performances earned her a ranking of ninth in the world.
If you’re not familiar with kiteboard racing, let us fill you in on this adrenalin sport. Up to 30 racers line up in close proximity and then harness the wind and belt across a stretch of water at speeds of up to 60kmph. “A mistake can be serious,” says Jade.
She laughs when she recalls her first forays into the sports. “When I reached speeds of 20 knots [35kmph], I could literally feel my eyeballs jiggling in their sockets. I wouldn’t be able to focus them and I would have these catastrophic wipeouts.”
But this determined girl could not be put off. “Racing is in my blood. It’s my passion.
I’m hoping for an even better in 2015. I want to put Ireland on the a road map for qualification for the 2020 Olympics when we hope kiteboarding will be selected.”
Photo: Kevin McGuirk
Tony Mangan, ultra runner
At this year’s Dublin marathon, Tony Mangan (57) finished in a time of 6h8m. A modest achievement you might think, but this was literally the tip of an epic iceberg. For as Tony crossed the line, he clocked up his fifty-thousandth kilometre. He had just run the whole way around the world and longer than anyone else has ever run. His feat is the equivalent of 1,200 marathons.
Tony is no stranger to challenges. He boasts world records for the treadmill and indoor 48-hour races. But these simply pale in comparison to a feat which saw him cross five continents and 41 countries, including a lap of Ireland as the grand finale.
In the ultimate understatement, Tony states, “It was an extremely tough grind. It became exhausting and I was solo most of the time. I have serious muscle wastage on my left leg. My physio wonders how I’m still standing.”
His lowest moment was when his mother Sheila was diagnosed with cancer about two and a half years ago. “We were told she had at most two years to live. I was home for her first chemo. I wanted to cut the run short but she wouldn’t let me. She said she’d be heartbroken. She’s still fighting strong though. She’s my rock. I get my strength from her.”
As for the high points, Tony loved Colorado, Mexico, Iran and being one of the first westerners into Burma (Myanmar) when it opened its borders in 2013. “I was accompanied by the police for 900km,” he recounts. And in Australia, where he was supported by friend Michael Gillan, he broke more records running from Queenscliff to Darwin in nine-and-a-half weeks. That’s about 3,800km!
So why did he do it? “Slow travel,” he says. “In 1978 when I cycled across Europe and through Iran and Afghanistan. I even got stuck in Iran during the revolution. I discovered slow, slow travel, but even then I felt I was going too fast. That’s when the seed was planted to travel around the world on foot.”
Tony’s tale of adventure, courage and determination leaves us boggled. To read more about it, visit:www.worldjog.com
Ger Kennedy, swimmer
This former rugby player and hill runner got into swimming in 2011 to overcome injury. Dubliner Ger suffers from depression and his list of achievements for 2014 is testament to his sheer mental strength, steely drive and a determination that depression can be beaten.
In March, Ger achieved world-class status by swimming 2.1km in 3.3°C in a time of 51 minutes – an achievement that has been managed by fewer than 10 people in the world. The swim was completed under the rules of the International Ice Swimming Association.
Ger and training buddy Allen Evans used unorthodox training methods for the challenge, which took place at Lough Dan, Co Wicklow. The pair hiked up to Wicklow’s upper lakes, Lough Ouler and Lough Firrib, in their search for cold water temperatures. Their at-times brutal training programme also involved dawn or pre-dawn sea swimming sessions where they relied on buoy lights to direct them.
In July, Ger swam a three-man English Channel relay as a precursor to swimming from Holyhead to Dublin in 2015 but one of the highlights of his year was training Johnny Hayden, an ex-surfer who became paralysed as a result of surgery, to swim a sea mile. Ger came up with a way of customising a wetsuit for Johnny and trained with him for two months leading up to the big swim.
“Johnny swam point to point into Greystones Harbour,” says Ger. “It was great to give something back and a few other people who are paraplegic have expressed an interest in doing it.”
Ice swimming’s biggest danger is the recovery phase. With a high risk of cardiac arrest, swimmers must be carefully brought back to normal body temperature. Ger is undeterred. He has regular medical check-ups and next year plans to compete in the first International Ice Swimming Championships.
John McCune, climber
‘Mordwand’ is the German nickname for the North Face of the Eiger. It means ‘murderous wall’ and with good reason. This route has claimed the lives of at least 64 climbers since 1935 (it was first successfully climbed in 1938). But that didn’t put off John McCune (26) from Newry who scaled the peak in March with fellow Irish climber John Orr. It took the pair took three days, including a “grim night with spindrift avalanches cascading over [them] and into [their] bivvy bags”. McCune
reckons they are the 7th or 8th Irish ascent team to make it up.
Recalling the climb, McCune laughs and says, “You’re kind of scared the whole time because you know how serious it is.”
While McCune is chuffed with his achievement – he waited four year for the right conditions – he is extremely modest. “Loads of English and Scottish people have climbed it. It’s a big deal in Ireland but it’s not for the rest of the world,” he says.
In fact he ranks some of his climbs here in Ireland up there with the Eiger. On Owey Island in Donegal, he put up some new E7 routes on the ‘Holy Jesus Wall’ – ‘Immaculata and ‘The Second Coming’. “That’s what I love about Irish climbing. It’s just exploring. The fact that we have that in Ireland is really exciting. I love it all as long as I’m pushing myself.”
McCune is now stretching himself professionally too. He has just finished year one of training to become the highest level of mountain guide (an IFMGA) so he can live his life in the mountains, sharing his love with other adventurous folk.
In May 2014, Jane Evans (35) completed her first Ironman in Lanzarote in 14h36m. The achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider that just two years previously, Jane had been helicoptered off a mountain in France with her leg broken into three places. A long road to recovery included three operations, one just six months before her big race, and learning to run again.
“There were a lot of hiccups along the way,” recalls Jane who says fitting in 15-20 hours training with a full time job was a real challenge. “About six months before the race, the screws in my leg acted up so they had to be taken out. And then I got a virus after so I couldn’t do any high intensity training for seven weeks. Then I got tendonitis in my injured shin. So I did no running for the two months before the race, only pool jogging.
“The most difficult part of the big day was the run. For the first 5km I walked to warm up the leg but it was nerve-racking watching the clock tick on.”
Thankfully Jane was able to start running and made the finish line with buckets of time to spare. “The tears came about 10 minutes after finishing. I learned a lot. Anything is possible if you can banish self doubt and don’t listen to what other people say.”
David Holden, paddler
In the last two years, Wicklow man David Holden (25) has done some serious paddling. In 2014, he completed a first Irish descent of the 100ft Matze Falls in Norway and the 60ft Lower Rauma, while in 2013, he paddled the 60ft Ribo Falls in
Switzerland and the 45ft Fulloch Falls in Scotland.
This year he was also one of just six Irish competitors in the Adidas Sickline competition. This is one of the hardest white-water races in Europe with competitors coming from all over the world to compete on the Wellerbrücke rapids which are
known as ‘the Eiger North Wall of kayaking’. He also came fourth in the Irish National Points series 2014.
David says, “I sat in a boat first time in 2010. But my biking background helped.” David used to BMX and mountain bike. He was the first person to back flip a bike in Ireland in 2009.
David, who runs Glendalough Kayak Academy, is renowned for helping and encouraging other paddlers. “He is a force for good in his field,” says fellow paddler Vicki Guy. “He has offered numerous times to go out with me and anyone else who wants help on the river with no personal gain. I have watched him do this with people coming up the kayaking ladder and showing a true spark for the sport … and with those who will never be more than a small water paddler.”
Derek Cullen, cyclist
In October 2013, Derek Cullen (35) quietly left the country, telling a select few he was going on a short cycling trip to South Africa. What no one knew was that he had quit his job and in fact was going on a trip that would change his life.
Derek, who hails from Firhouse, initially planned to cycle from Cape Town to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe but had so little faith in himself that he told no one. “My brother had doubts that I could even do three weeks. I cycled with him once and after 15km couldn’t keep going. And in fact on my first day I did 35km. I was completely wrecked,” he laughs.
It was only when he got to Namibia that he let the cat out of the bag. In the end he cycled solo all the way to Cairo and home through France and the UK for good measure. Arriving back in early November, he had cycled a whopping 12,500km and raised more than €5,000 for charity Aoibheanns Pink Tie.
Derek’s trip was all about tackling his demons. “I lost both my parents to cancer in quick succession and became very self-destructive. I knew I had to change that.”
As well as being an unfit and a novice cyclist, Derek says, “I’ve suffered from anxiety all my life. And on this trip I was really terrified about everything at the start. I never really got over the fear of sleeping in a tent at night with unidentified animals moving around outside in the dark. But after two months I did let go of a lot of other worries.
Derek is now progressing his dream of working in the outdoors and motivation. “I really thought this trip was beyond me. But if I can do it, anyone can.” www.nohangingaround.com
Mike Shea, adventurer
In June, Kerry man Mike O’Shea (45) became the first person to fly from Mizen Head to Malin Head by paramotor. Travelling at heights of up to 10,000 feet with temperatures reaching below zero, Mike completed the 590km journey over three days in challenging changeable conditions and strong gusty winds.
“Becoming the first person to paramotor from Mizen to Malin has been an ambition since I first took up the sport.” he says.
It was just one of several epic projects that Mike took on in 2014, several of which were thwarted by bad luck. In February, together with Clare O’Leary he made his second attempt to walk to the North Pole but was evacuated due to injury. Then in April the pair had to abort a mission to cross Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Europe, because of a storm.
“It was survival stuff. We were stuck in the tent for six days but had to get out every hour or so to secure it,” recounts Mike.
But Mike is never put off by setbacks or obstacles it seems. In September, together with a team, he walked from Dingle to Dublin, pushing a car for the Bumbleance Charity to raise money for a new children’s ambulance. He was also involved in raising €10,000 to build a toilet and kitchen block for a school and orphanage in Africa and €40,000 to build an independent living unit in Chernobyl. And he was part of the team that reerected the cross on Carrauntoohil in November.
Mike is also heavily involved in mountain rescue, the coast guard and the Irish explorers trust, which collects the memorabilia of Irish explorers. Oh and he runs his own business, Work at Height. Mike project managed build and safety at this year’s RedBull Cliff Diving on Inis Mor and also provided safety cover for a certain international film project on Skellig Michael. Phew, we’re knackered after all that!
Helen O’Sullivan, runner
In 2011, Helen O’Sullivan spent almost five months in hospital. It was a serious low point for the 37-year-old mum of one from Skerries who suffers from cystic fibrosis.
But Helen tries not to let her illness bring her down. Describing her regular daily routine to manage her condition, she says, “I do an hour of physio and nebulisers in the morning and evening. You just get on with it. I try to lead a normal life.”
When her luck turned after this illness, and with the help of a new medication kalydeco, she turned her attention back to running which she had taken up in 2010 when she completed the 10km Great Ireland Run. Then in 2014, she upped the ante with her first half marathon. She finished in a time of 1:41:16.
Next target was the Dublin Marathon in October. Aiming for a sub-four hour race, Helen crossed the line in 3:45:56 – a very respectable time for any marathoner and hugely impressive for someone with a chronic disease affecting the lungs.
“It was just amazing. In the week running up to the event, I was a bag of cats. I believe it’s called the taper tantrums,” she laughs. “But on the day I had to stay very cold and focused because I was so emotional. When I crossed the line and saw my husband, I started crying.”
Helen already has her eyes set on Dublin 2015 and aims to beat her time. Go Helen!
Liam Delahunty, adventure racer
This year, Liam Delahunty (36) from Waterford, came first, second and third respectively in WAR Lough Dan, MOXY, WAR Sugar Loaf and the Dingle Adventure Race (sport). Impressive for someone who only started multi-sport racing in 2013. But it’s staggering for a man diagnosed with MS eight years ago.
Liam’s life fell apart back then. He suffered from serious depression and admits that he considered suicide. “I had a family and kids, but nothing seemed to help me with those dark thoughts.”
Everything changed in 2013 when he set himself a target of completing 24 races in 18 months. Liam completed his final event at the end of December in Kerry. And while some of his symptoms have progressed, he says the activity has alleviated others. “My tremors are better and I sleep better now,” he says. He adds however, “I had weeks however where I couldn’t, train, when I felt really bad and would be falling over. But I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.”
Liam’s final race was be specially organised by Ollie Kirwan and the gang from the Killarney Adventure race. It was a fitting end to an epic 18 months, according to Liam. “The Killarney races were my favourites. The Black Valley was amazing. That’s what I love about adventure racing. It’s the places that it brings you. You’re in places that you wouldn’t normally go.
“Adventure racing has completely changed my life. I’m more open and able to talk to people and my mind is freer. I now go hiking with the kids and we spend a lot of time in the mountains or at lakes now,” he says.
Nuala Moore, Padraig Mallon and Ger Kennedy, swimmers
Nuala Moore (Dingle, Co Kerry), Padraig Mallon (Camlough Lake, Co Armagh), and Ger Kennedy (Dublin, see above) have one huge thing in common. Ice swimming. All three of them have just qualified to represent Ireland at the first international ice swimming world championships next March. And that’s just the start of their achievements.
Padraig was named 2013 World Open Water Swimming Association’s man of the year for completing an official ice swim, the English Channel and the North Channel in the same year. He also came third in the Russian Ice Swimming Championships in Siberia where the water was 0°C.
In 2013 Nuala also completed the ice mile, was part of the relay team that swam the Bering Strait for the first time and took part in the Russian Ice Swimming Championships. She is a double Channel Swimmer and in 2014 swam at the Perito
Moreno Glacier in El Calafate, Argentina, and in the World Winter Swimming Championships at 0°C in Lapland.
And now trio are sharing their wisdom with other swimmers and encouraging them to get involved. In advance of the first ever Ireland Ice Swim on 8 February 2015 (1km), the trio are running a camp to prepare those who want to take part.
Mallon explains, “The camp prepares swimmers psychologically, medically and physically. You have to be really prepared for this and dedicated to make it. We started with 38 people but only 15 will actually take part in the event.”
Nuala adds, “There is a lot of fear attached to this sport. The camp tackles those fears and prepares for the realities. Ice swimming is a bit like climbing Everest. Everyone is there for each other but in the end you have to be 100% self-sufficient.”
Photo: Terry O’Connor
Dominic Burns, climber
Dom Burns, from Belfast continued to wow us in 2014 adding a plethora of climbing titles to his tally. Dom (17) won the Male Youth A categories in the Junior Irish Bouldering Championship and the Junior Irish Lead Climbing Championship. Punching way above his age weight, he also took first overall at the Senior Irish Bouldering as well as securing a very convincing first at the Senior Irish Lead Climbing Championship.
Speaking about the success, he says, “A few years ago these guys were my heroes and this year I beat them. That was nice.”
At the British Bouldering Championships Dom qualified for the finals and came fourth place overall. At the IFSC European Youth Cup he reached the finals, again taking fourth place. Competing at senior level in two rounds of the IFSC Boulder
World Cup Dom placed well up the field in both competitions.
It was however at the IFSC Bouldering World Championships in Munich that he put in his strongest performance of 2014, placing 27th overall and missing out on a place in the semi-finals by a tiny margin. He finished one place behind Russia’s Rustam Gelmanov, winner of the 2012 IFSC Boulder World Cup.
“This was the highlight of my year,” says Dominic who is also studying for his A-levels. I never thought I’d get into the top 30. I was really surprised.” Working alongside coach Rob Hunter and Mountaineering Ireland climbing coach Terry O’Connor, Dom continues the hard work and is setting up for another successful season for 2015.
Hamish Wilkinson, paddler
In September, Hamish Wilkinson paddled into Portrush, Antrim, and became the youngest person to circumnavigate Ireland by kayak. The 19-year-old, who is originally from Australia but now lives in Castlerock, Co Derry, spent a total of 72 days on his solo expedition and paddled a whopping 1600km. And to top it all off he was travelling in a boat that he’d made himself with his father John, a renowned local boat builder.
“The paddle was a lot harder and a lot longer than I expected,” says Hamish. I thought I’d be home in 40 days. The weather was a challenge. I had northerly head winds going up the west coast. And there were days with huge swells and waves breaking over the boat out at sea. That was scary.
But what I found toughest was the solo aspect. I missed company most. And setting up and dismantling the camp every day was tough. That took about three hours and was tedious.”
However he adds, “It was really satisfying to do the expedition in my own boat. And that way I couldn’t blame anyone else if anything went wrong.”
Hamish, who works as a pipe-builder and an outdoor instructor, thinks he learned a lot about himself too. “I used to be very impatient but I’m more patient now. And I now know that it’s very easy to say you’re going to do something big whereas the reality of following through is much harder. And you often have to do things you don’t like to achieve your goal.”
John Bolton and Diane Cooper, paddlers
Who says you can’t mix business with pleasure?! This summer, True Fitness business partners John Bolton and Diane Cooper took to the water to paddle around Ireland.
The 1,600km trip in aid of hospices in Laois and Offaly, took a total of 42 days. The pair covered 50-70km a day and paddled for up to 17 hours. They finally finished in Kinsale Harbour on Saturday 2 August. Fewer than 50 people have successfully completed this kayak challenge.
Speaking about the adventure, John says, “We knew it would test us both mentally and physically to our limits … and it was a great sense of achievement to know we could rise to these challenges and thrive under these conditions.
He adds, “The incredible scenery that we have is hard to describe and being able to witness this daily and access isolated places ... were wonderful highlights. The weather was mostly warm and dry and having the sun on your face and being at sea are memories that will live with us forever.
“The biggest surprise we had was the hospitality of the people along the way. People went out of their way to help us by putting us up in their homes for the night and feeding us.”
Maurice Mullins, runner
Pioneer, forward thinker, influencer, legend; all words used to describe Maurice Mullins, the man who introduced triathlon and then long-distance triathlon to Ireland, and competed internationally in ultra-distance events.
In a sporting life filled with an early passion for hurling and rugby, then running, Maurice also started the Wicklow Trail event and brought the 100km Anglo Celtic Plate to Dublin’s Phoenix Park.
Giving Ireland its first triathlon event was very simple, says Maurice. “I used to organise a 5km event in Skerries but in 1983 someone got in ahead of me and I couldn’t get a permit. I used to get Runners World from the States, I read about triathlon in Hawaii and I said, ‘Do you know what, I think Skerries would be ideal for it.”
In a nutshell, Ireland got its first Triathlon because Maurice was raising money to build a community hall in Skerries. Not content with pioneering athletics events, Maurice competed extensively, running 130 marathons, 20 100km races and a handful of 24-hour races, as documented in his daughter Deirdre’s short documentary ‘Going the Distance’.
As a result of having cancer, 72-year-old Maurice no longer runs but keeps in close contact with his many friends from the world of athletics. One of them, triathlete Michael Kennedy, says: “Maurice is one of life’s motivators. Frank Martin, who was the Irish 100km champion for 10 years credited his transformation from a club runner to an ultra-runner to Maurice’s enthusiasm. He described him as a man on a mission. “While the rest of us turned out for races, Maurice was the man organising. He is truly a legend, way ahead of his time, a pioneer full of ideas and vision who led the way.”
Eimear Mullan, triathlete
Eimear Mullan (32) has already been crowned Triathlete of the Year, topping off her second year as a full-time athlete. It’s been a fantastic 12 months for the Derry woman – she won Embrunman, one of the toughest long-distance triathlon events in the world, competed at the Commonwealth games for Northern Ireland and also won Ironman Mallorca.
Eimear got into triathlon when she moved to the UK to study to be a teacher. “One of the things I love about triathlon is that if you have an injury that affects you in one discipline, you can work on another area,” she says.
She transitioned to being a full-time athlete with help from top triathlon coach Brett Sutton and tri pro Bella Bayliss. “I have no financial sponsors so I rely on prize money to get by. “Brett showed me how to make a living from competing.”
Eimear epitomises the spirit of the true endurance athlete. “When you’re running for more than nine hours, there will be tough times,” she says. “In Mallorca, I had severe stomach problems: I was getting sick and was in pain. I wanted to stop so many times but somehow you just manage to keep going.”
Following Ironman Mallorca, she won a half-distance event in Sardinia. She is now aiming to compete in the next Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.
Robert Lee, mountaineer
On November 8, Robert Lee (20) from Greystones in Wicklow finished his quest to climb every mountain in Ireland. In the space of two years, the NCAD student bagged 278 peaks, covering a total ascent of 50,000m.
Robert’s fascination with climbing Ireland’s peaks began when he was just eight years old and used to admire the mighty Sugarloaf while playing with friends.
In his successful drive to scale every peak, Robert used the ‘Vandeleur Lynam’ list. His challenge started on Croagh Park on New Year’s Day 2013 and finished at the summit of Carauntoohil in November. “When we got to the Hag’s Tooth, my brother Michael popped open a bottle of champagne to celebrate,” he says. “It was very emotional.
“It was really good for my studies too. I worked hard to get the work done on nine course modules so that I could have free time to climb later on.” Robert’s discipline earned him six As and two B+s in his end-of-year exams.
Robert now plans to complete a mountain leader course, find new challenges in Ireland and climb bigger peaks abroad.
Photo: James Kaiser
Orla Doolin, snowboarder
You might think that you have to grow up in the Alps if you want to be a serious skier or boarder. Well nobody told Westmeath girl Orla Doolin that. Currently based in Whistler, Canada, Orla is Ireland’s top snowboarder and competes in slopestyle and railjam contests.
In 2014 the 28-year-old took top honours at the US/Canada Transworld Snowboarding Transam competition and made the cut for MissSuperpark. In 2013, she won the Whitelines Boardtest Railjam Kaurnetal and came second in the Perisher Playstation Slopestyle, while in 2012 she won the Queenstown Parklife Invitational and the Whitelines and Burton Indoor Tour.
If you’re not depressed enough already, it’s time to mention that she only started snowboarding at 21. Orla laughs, “Family holidays were in Courtown… It was a long way from the Alps!”
After university, a trip to New Zealand with friend Lynsey sealed the deal. “We were black and blue that winter because we’d try to ride in the freestyle park with the guys but we’d no clue what we were doing. We could barely turn the board.”
Competition and sponsorship followed when she was spotted by Burton while riding the indoor UK snowdomes in 2011 but Orla stresses, “I never started snowboarding to
compete. What I really love is snowboarding with friends and working hard getting tricks with good style on film and photo.”
Dale Rothwell and Dermot Walsh, paddlers
Tullow Kayak club members Dale Rothwell (34) and Dermot Walsh (43) had both been keen white water paddlers before babies and new businesses began arriving. In 2013, they set themselves a challenge to get fit and trained for 18 months to compete in the gruelling Devizes to Westminster paddle race.
“I’m pushy,” says Dale. “I like to drag people along with me and get satisfaction from seeing people achieving things. I gave Dermot motivation and he gave me organisational skills.”
The friends trained on the River Slaney at night, often in cruel winter conditions. They often clocked up 20 hours a week on top of full-time jobs.
The annual race has a 25 to 30% failure rate but despite being newcomers, Dale and Dermot finished sixth in the Canadian class and won the Overseas European class.
“We paddled for 28 hours in low April temperatures, stopping only to portage or for compulsory checks,” says Dale. “I was so tired that by 4am I started to fall asleep in the kayak. I hallucinated, thinking there was a big hole in the river.
“For two months afterwards, we couldn’t feel the tips of our fingers from gripping the paddles for so long!”
Photo: Tomás Greally
John O’Regan, ultra-runner
Renowned ultra runner John O’Regan (45) needs no introduction to Outsider readers. In 2014, the Dubliner won the Red Bull Wings for Life World Run in Killarney and finished second in the inaugural Tralee 100K just two weeks after running 227km in the Belfast 24-hour race. He is also the current National 24-hour Champion.
Despite those achievements, John says 2014 was relatively quiet on the competition front. That may be because he spent a lot of time quietly giving back to the sport he loves.
A level 2 athletics coach, John trained 30 first-time marathon runners at Le Cheile Leixlip AC and also ran the half marathon and Dublin marathon as an official pacer. He was advisor and online coach for Mark Pollock’s Run in the Dark and organised the crew behind the Bumbleance charity push.
The Irish Rail clerical officer also helped coach Sinead Kane, the first blind Irish female to complete the Dublin Marathon in October. He is also actively involved in the local Parkrun and coaches runners in Athletic Ireland’s Fit4Life programme.
“How many clubs have a runner of John’s calibre who are willing to coach and advise its masters members and in the same evening mentor and support the Couch to 5k runners with the same enthusiasm?” asks a Leixlip AC member.
How does he find the time and energy? “If you want to do something, you’ll always find a way,” says John simply. “I encourage people to try lots of different sports to find the one they love. If you have the want, you can achieve anything.”
Paul Sheils, explorer
Paul Sheils (38) epitomises the spirit of adventure. The Navan man – who has previously crossed the Sarek national park in Arctic Lapland three times (twice solo) and hiked almost 300km across the Scottish Monroes – is self-taught in navigation,
camp craft, bush craft and wilderness survival.
“I’ve never done a mountain skills or survival course,” he says. “Everything I know is from reading and learning as I go. I love wilderness, exploring really remote places.”
A pure soloist, he has been unknown in the world of Irish adventure – until now. In 2014, Paul hiked 430km through Iceland’s uninhabited interior wilderness, possibly becoming the first Irish person to do so. He hiked for 18 days along Lake Myvatn. No support team, no hiking partner – just Paul Sheils and 27kg on his back.
“I crossed black desert and forded glacial rivers,” he says. “I climbed a volcano and slept on top of it, unaware that there had been a massive landslide there a few days earlier. I got caught in glacial floods at Bardabunga and lost a lot of weight.
That kind of adventure doesn’t bother me, it excites me.”
Paul, who works as a groundsman at Navan racetrack, hopes to return to the Arctic wilderness in 2015.
Paul Devaney, mountaineer
2014 was a year of highs and lows for Longford mountaineer Paul Devaney who is on his way to becoming one of only 275 people worldwide to ever have climbed all ‘seven summits’ on seven continents. Paul (37) and mountaineering partner Niall
O’Byrnes are the last two members of a group of friends who set out to conquer the seven summits in 2007; the so-called Irish Seven Summits Challenge.
The highlight of Paul’s year came in January when he got to Antarctica, 100 years after Shackleton and Crean’s expedition.
Paul should have completed his seventh summit in April with an ascent of Everest but that event stalled following the tragic death of 16 Sherpas in an avalanche. Paul and Niall were among 500 climbers sent home in the dramatic aftermath.
To bag his seventh summit, Paul plans to run a scientific expedition to Everest in 2015. He’s testament to the determination needed to complete such a massive challenge, and the personal and financial logistics of doing so. He left his job with Rolls Royce Aerospace in Germany to train full-time and spent over five months living in a specialised environment at University of Limerick’s National Altitude Centre where he spent much of the time at a simulated altitude of 4,800m.
Paul’s seven summits challenge has cost over €100,000 so far and has raised €30,000 for the Liam’s Lodge charity. “The in-between times are difficult; waiting to finish it and re-inventing your interest in it but the part that hurts the most is the realisation that we have to train again for Everest after training so long and hard for it in 2014!” he says.
Paul Gosney, iron-distance triathlete
Paul Gosney loves an epic challenge. Having run the 112-mile Ring of Kerry in one go in 2011 and completed the Landsend-London-Dover triple iron-distance event in 2013, the Kerry athlete decided to ‘step it up a little bit’ in 2014.
He took an already massive achievement two steps further, completing a quin-distance event. That’s five consecutive iron-distance triathlons – a 2.4mile swim in the Killarney lakes followed by a 112-mile Ring of Kerry cycle and full marathon in
Killarney National Park – every day for five days, all in the 17-hour cut-off time for single iron-distance events.
Paul, who raised funds for the Bumbleance charity, ran the last two marathons with a stress fracture. “I do these things for fun,” he says with great understatement. “But it was extremely painful running with an injury.
“I found it very difficult. On day three I came out of the water almost hypothermic. Day 5 was my best day; the annual Hardman event was on so there were other people around me but I don’t think I ever want to feel that tired again.”
Yet Paul still hankers after the deca iron distance. “I’m still contemplating squeezing that in,” he says. “But I don’t want to push my luck; you have to be very lucky to complete a deca.”
He also plans to compete in the Paris-Brest-Paris cycle race next year, which covers 1,200km over 90 hours.
The dad of two, who previously worked for Kerry County Council and is now studying to be a personal trainer, has massive praise for his support crew. “I can’t emphasise enough that I couldn’t physically do what I do without my wife Kate and the support of friends and family.”
Sinead Kane, runner
Qualified solicitor, motivational speaker, volunteer, charity fundraiser, Youghal woman Sinead Kane (32) already has a lot of strings to her bow. Sinead, who calls herself a ‘little battler’, is driven to succeed after being bullied at school because of her disability. “On top of the bullying by other children, a teach told me I wouldn’t be able to be a solicitor. I wanted to prove her wrong. I was left on the sidelines during PE class which made me feel excluded. Now I’m hoping to run an ultra marathon!”
In October, Sinead became the first blind woman to complete the Dublin marathon in a time of 4.01. She had previously run a mini and half marathon but ran the marathon to raise funds for Childline, where she’s a volunteer.
Sinead, who is currently studying for a PHD, faced numerous challenges along the way. “The biggest obstacles were finding a running guide – at one point I was travelling to Dublin by train for a two-hour training run with an ultra runner..
Everything from finding safe routes to the weather were challenges. “I have 5% vision and on glary days, my eyes let in too much light so we had to choose our days carefully.”
Sinead ran the marathon with guide Kieran O’Reilly. “I trusted Kieran completely,” she says. “Then at 24 miles, I wanted to step up the pace a bit so I let go the tether and finished the last few miles with assistance from other runners. I wanted that freedom and independence.”
Sinead hopes to complete an ultra run in 2015 with help from mentor John O’Regan.
Sean Buckley and James Corbert, endurance athletes
Sean Buckley and his cousin James Corbert in August completed a 2,068km trek around Ireland over 22 days in August. Sean and James – both sports fanatics – swam 120km of the river Shannon, cycled 1,780km and ran a marathon in all four provinces. Completing the challenge in memory of Sean’s father, who died from lung cancer in 2012, they raised €200,000 for Cork charity Breakthrough Cancer Research.
“The Endurance Challenge 2068 was a great experience,” says Sean who hails from Carrigtwohill and works in the family mechanical engineering business in Midleton. “We had really good local support; one week the GAA club donated their lotto fund to us and I just thought that was incredible.
“So many people dream of being pro athletes and for the 18 months that we trained, we got to live almost like pros athletes. We trained for 25-30 hours a week and I never felt as good.
“There were very tough parts – I was so drained and ill during the swim that the lads literally had to pick me up and throw me into the water, then lift me back out when I finished. Another downside was that we both looked like bodybuilders when we finished – we couldn’t find suit trousers to fit us for months!”
Desi McHenry, triathlete
Armagh man Desi McHenry (67) has been competing in triathlons since 1982. At the 2014 Age Group World Triathlon Championships, Desi had the top Irish result (65-69 age group – sprint distance), covering a 750m swim, 20km bike ride and 5km run in 1:18 and claiming the silver medal. He then went on to compete in the Quebec 70.3 half Ironman, finishing eighth.
The former teacher, who runs his own gas engineering firm, puts his passion for triathlon down to a number of factors.
“Every year the events change,” he says. “Part of the fun is strategising, seeing who’s strong at what and where other people’s weaknesses lie. When you meet the same people at different events, you see how their year has gone by testing them. There’s great camaraderie and I’ve made great friends but once the gun goes, we’re out to compete seriously.
“I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world competing and the training. While it demands dedication and takes a 15-hours of each week – it keeps you healthy. It also helps to know you have a chance of a place at the top; it encourages you to take it a bit more seriously, drives you a bit harder. It’s a great sport.”
Desmond is currently working towards qualifying for next year’s World Championships in Majorca.
Ruthann Sheahan, ultra runner
Ruthann Sheahan is some woman for one woman: in 2014 she competed in the Atacama Crossing, a 250km seven-day desert stage race where athletes endure sweltering 42°C temperatures. Despite suffering with stomach problems during the race, she was third lady home and finished 16th overall.
“2014 was a topsy-turvy year,” says Ruthann, who works at Boston Scientific in Galway. “The 24-Hour World Championships were cancelled so I looked around for something completely different to do. I knew Atacama was going to be very tough – coming back from a knee injury and running with a 10kg pack – but sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns.
“All you think about during the race is surviving in the sense of getting food into you and trying to hold onto it, going to the toilet and getting a sleep; that’s all anyone cares about. I set out to enjoy the experience and have a look around a fascinating place so I was very happy and surprised at my placing.”
Ruthann’s achievements – she has competed in the Marathon de Sable, set the national record for 24-hour racing and was first lady home in the Connemara Ultra marathon in April – are all the more impressive when you consider that she only started running in 2009.
Next year she will be focusing once again on the World Championships with the support of her husband George Levane (who has also taken up ultra running).
Photo: Action Pictures Ireland
Conor Lavelle, mountain biker
This October, Conor Lavelle (17) from Dublin, took third place in Scotland at round 2 of the Enduro World Series junior category. That put him in third place overall in the series. Lavelle, who has been mountain biking since he was 11, was thrilled with his success. But there were still a few niggly questions about what might have been.
First, what would have been if he hadn’t broken his hand in the July La Thuile Race in Italy? “That’s why I only finished eight,” he says. This was his worst performance in the races he competed in and kept him out of racing for two months.
The other niggle was knowing that if he had made it to more races, he could well have taken second place. “The guy in front competed in six races. I only made it to four. If you just counted his top four performances I would have been ahead of him.”
Despite generous help from Niall Davis of Biking.ie and Arrow Asset Management, he simply couldn’t afford to travel to the races in Chile, Colorado and Whistler in Canada.
Lavelle is already looking to the future and hoping to improve on his 2014 success which also saw him win the junior enduro series in Ireland and come second overall in round 2 in Ballinastoe. Although only in fifth year, Lavelle fully intends to make his career from his two wheels.
Avril Copeland, adventure racer
Avril Copeland (36) is just back from her fourth Adventure Racing World Championships. This gruelling six-day event involved kayaking, climbing, mountain biking and trekking a 700km course through Ecuador’s Andes and Amazon rainforest on as little as two hours sleep a night.
Avril’s team, which included Eoin Carton and Richard Noonan (Irl) and Pete Spagnoli (US), finished 27th out of 50 but this seems relatively unimportant to the former Irish international hockey player. The overriding sense Avril gives is that while the experience was challenging, it was hugely rewarding.
“Ecuador was incredible. To see the indigenous people living with really nothing was an eye-opener,” she recounts. “The racing was really tough. Some of the sections involved upwards of 24 hours trekking in serious mud and torrential rain. One of our team got really sick so it was a constant struggle.
Avril, who has just been named a Helly Hansen ambassador, has completed more than 13 expedition adventure races since her first one in 2001. Amongst others, her achievements include a top 10 finish in Primal Quest (2009), first female in the Caveman Trail Run/Mountain Bike Championship (2012), fifth place in Adidas Terrex (2010) and winning the Beast of Ballyhoura (2010).
During these years, she also managed to qualify as a physiotherapist and set up her own business TickerFit.com which empowers health professionals to prescribe patients with personalised physical activity plans. So where does she find the time to train?!
Eoin Keith, ultra runner
It’s no surprise that the winner of last year’s Outsider of the year award, Eoin Keith (45), is back on these pages. In September he came 15th in the Tor de Geants in Italy. The race involves 300km and 24,000m of climbing in the Italian Alps. “That’s three times Everest,” says Eoin.
But his big performance of the year was back in May when he won the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence Six-Day race in New York. He recounts, “You run as far as you can over six days on a one-mile circuit in Corona Park. Other nut balls are doing exactly the same thing. I ran 500 miles in total. I finished four hours early because I knew I couldn’t be caught.”
But it wasn’t all plain sailing, “I’ve done harder races physically before but I never had to work so hard to keep going in a race that I was winning,” recalls Eoin who works in the IT department of the Royal College of Surgeons and only started
running when he was 30.
“If you want to take on challenges like these, the most important thing is don’t fear it, just do it. There is no rational way to be ready for something huge,” he says.