Waterford father of two with Parkinson’s conquers 28 mountains challenge

Waterford father of two with Parkinson's conquers 28 mountains challenge

Ian O’Brien with his wife Caroline and children Clara and Hazel. Picture: Con Dennehy

MON, 03 JUL, 2023 – 15:00

CHRISTY PARKER

Examiner

A 42-year-old Waterford man who was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease (EOPD) five years ago, has achieved his goal of scaling the highest peak in all 27 EU countries, and the UK, in 28 days.

Ian O’Brien, a married father of two, completed his unprecedented odyssey by climbing Kerry’s 1,040m Carrauntoohil on Sunday.

By then he had raised more than €70,000 of a €100,00 target towards EOPD Ireland, a support charity he co-founded.

Ian O'Brien, centre, celebrates with friends and wellwishers on Carrauntoohil, Co Kerry, on Sunday. Picture: Mark O'Brien

Ian O’Brien, centre, celebrates with friends and wellwishers on Carrauntoohil, Co Kerry, on Sunday. Picture: Mark O’Brien

Originally from Tallow but living in Abbeyside, Dungarvan, Mr O’Brien devised the challenge to “raise funds, enhance awareness of Parkinson’s and promote the importance of exercise when affected by the disease”.

“I achieved what I set out to do, while creating precious memories with new and existing friends. I couldn’t be happier,” he said.

Mr O’Brien first became prone to bouts of anxiety, depression, and fatigue 10 years ago but it was another five years before his condition was diagnosed.

Meantime, he had lost weight, suffered diminished movement in his right arm, and had suicidal thoughts.

Despite the absence of ‘traditional tremors’ the symptoms still impact severely on the former garage salesman’s life. 

“Simple tasks like picking up shopping bags can prove difficult”, he said.

He finds strength in gym work and outdoor exercises, combined with medication and speech therapy.

Ian O'Brien on Grossglockner, Austria.

Ian O’Brien on Grossglockner, Austria.

Mr O’Brien began his challenge on France’s Mont Blanc on June 5, preceding a hectic zigzag dash across Europe, grabbing sleep between peaks such as the snows of Austria’s Grossglockner and the near-level lands of Holland.

Along with forming new friendships and winning support among mountain guides and local communities with his story, he was regularly visited by familiar faces from home, including close Kilkenny friend Larry Lynch.

As Mr O’Brien completed the final climb in Kerry, more than 150 people from across Ireland, along with supporters from the Netherlands and Switzerland who flew in specifically to attend, gathered to celebrate in Cronin’s Yard, at the foot of Carrauntoohil.

Ian O'Brien at Mount Olympus, Greece.

Ian O’Brien at Mount Olympus, Greece.

Summarising his achievement, Ian says: “It wasn’t really about 28 mountains in 28 days. Everyone with Parkinson’s has their own mountain to climb and it may simply be walking down a street and back again. The thing is, you can do it”.

Donations to EOPD are accepted until July 31 and can be made here.

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