Irish man with early onset Parkinson’s disease scales Europe’s 28 highest peaks in 28 days

The Irish Times 02 July 2023

‘I’m doing this while I can to create memories as I know there will be dark days ahead,’ says Ian O’Brien (42)

Ian O’Brien (centre) with his family and friends atop Ireland’s highest peak, Carrauntoohil in Co Kerry

A man diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease (EOPD) achieved his goal of climbing to the highest point in 28 countries in 28 days when he scaled Carrauntoohil in Co Kerry on Sunday.

Ian O’Brien, who lives in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, finished his series of mammoth climbs in all 27 EU countries and the UK at 3.40pm when he successfully descended Ireland’s highest peak. The challenge, which took him to the summits of mountains such as Mont Blanc, Mount Olympus and Ben Nevis, had never been completed previously.

Ian O’Brien atop Ireland’s highest peak, Carrauntoohil in Co Kerry

Speaking from Cronin’s Yard at the base of Carrauntoohil, Mr O’Brien (42) said the scale of the achievement had not “sunk in yet”.

“I’m a little bit tired and my knees are a bit sore as I ran down the last bit of the climb, but I am delighted,” he said, adding that he was “thrilled” to see his daughters, Clara (8) and Hazel (5), and his wife Caroline again.

“It’s a terrible disease. I’m doing this while I can to create memories as I know there will be dark days ahead.”

Mr O’Brien was diagnosed with EOPD five years ago. His symptoms started about 10 years ago when he began experiencing slight movement problems with one of his arms, which he thought was from a previous accident. A friend recommended he go to see a neurologist, and his diagnosis was made within minutes.

He began the self-financing “Eur-Up-Ian” challenge on June 5th, with an aim of creating awareness of EOPD and raising funds. He is not planning to take it easy having finished the challenge; he is travelling to Barcelona on Tuesday to attend and speak at a conference about Parkinson’s and is embarking on an adventure trek next Saturday.

“I definitely feel fitter than I did when I started, and I feel I have and am raising awareness about this disease,” he said. “What I, along with my family and friends, raised so far is €72,500 with more donations to come in. But it’s never been about the money, it’s about raising the profile of this disease.

“Fitness and exercise are so important in slowing down the progression of this disease and it is definitely helping me,” he said, adding that he will continue to be determined not to allow the condition to stop him doing what he enjoys.

“It can be done, I am doing it. Unfortunately, it is the fastest-growing neurological condition and my story may become an all too familiar one.

“But for now I’m going to enjoy a couple of pints to celebrate our achievement – mine, my family and my friends – in highlighting what I and others are and could be living with in the future.”

Donations to Ian O’Brien’s fundraiser can be made here.