This 36-year-old is determined to complete one of her lifelong goals, writes Anita Guidera
Jillian McNulty is a fighter who has spent her whole life defying the odds. Before dawn, next Monday morning, she will face her biggest challenge yet when she takes her place at the starting line for the annual Dublin City Marathon.
The 36-year-old cystic fibrosis sufferer, who has been in St Vincent's Hospital for the past three weeks battling an infection, has warned she will discharge herself from hospital, even if the doctors want to keep her in.
"No matter what, I'm going ahead with this. I have worked really hard for the last five months training. My lung function levels are down which is not a good sign but I don't feel sick.
"If they don't let me out I have decided I'm signing myself before the race," she told the Irish Independent.
Her consultant put her fitness to the test by seeing if she could complete a 16-mile, four lap run around the city accompanied by physiotherapists.
"It took four physios to do it with me," she said proudly. "They each did a lap. I did it all and I proved a point to them."
Selected to represent her native Co Longford in the Spar sponsored Spartan Challenge, Jillian and the 25 other novices chosen, have all received special coaching and were provided with a trainer.
Jillian was also given special permission to begin the marathon at 5am and will be accompanied by her trainer, Karl Henry for the 26-mile run through the capital.
"I will mainly be walking fast but inevitably the other runners will catch up. If it takes me 12 hours, if it takes me 14 hours I don't care.
"We are aiming for 10, and if it takes shorter, all the better but it doesn't matter to me.
"I just want to do it. It's one thing off my bucket list," she said.
Diagnosed with CF at birth, Jillian avoided hospital for 31 years, being cared for at home instead by her dedicated parents, Finola and Francis, whenever she fell ill.
But hospital became inevitable as the condition worsened and for the past five years Jillian has become one of the most vocal campaigners for a dedicated treatment facility for those living with CF in Ireland.
While in hospital last February, she was devastated when she was told that her lung function levels would not return to what they had previously been because her CF was progressing.
"I got really upset. Then I saw this ad on the television about the Spartan Challenge and I decided to apply just to prove them wrong," she said.
And she did. With the new training regime in place, Jillian's lung function levels soared by 20pc, back to the level they had been five years ago.
'The difference was unbelievable. Before this I would be breathless after walking one kilometre and if I had an infection, I couldn't walk at all.
"Now I can run for hours and I am not breathless at all and my energy levels have really improved.
"It's the biggest buzz ever because you are defying doctors and proving them wrong.
"It's a great feeling. It gives you confidence in yourself and shows you that it is possible," she said.
Despite her best efforts, she has been hospitalised on and off for three out of the past six months, most recently in the new CF unit at St Vincent's Hospital, for which she and others so valiantly fought.
But it hasn't disrupted her training regime.
"I have been flying really. I have been continuing my training in here.
"They got me a treadmill in the room, and I am running every day, although obviously not quite at the level I should have been at, because of the infection," she said.
Jillian will be spending this weekend in the Burlington Hotel with her proud parents, rising at 2am on the morning of the race.
"It's going to be unreal. I know I won't sleep that night. I have to be up early because I have clearance and nebs [nebuliser] to do and a big bowl of pasta to eat before I head out."
Jillian's slogan 'Running to Breathe/To Fight CF/To Live' will be on t-shirts worn by family, friends and even strangers who will crowd the sidelines to support her on the day and the money raised in sponsorship through mycharity.ie will go towards the Cystic Fibrosis Association.
"The last five miles will be the hardest. That's when I will need people the most. I can't wait until I am actually crossing the finishing line.
"I will probably start blubbering and crying," she said.
But they will be tears of pride.