Wednesday 14 November 2018

Adventurer who scaled the heights and 'died doing what he loved best'

Ian McKeever was always destined for better things. That's what his former AA colleague Conor Faughnan said when he learned of the adventurer's death on Wednesday.

McKeever was just 42 when he died of his injuries after being hit by lightning on his beloved Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

On his Facebook page, a statement said: "It is with deep regret, that we, Ian's family, fiancée Anna and friends, advise of his sudden death on Kilimanjaro, today, doing what he loved best."

McKeever, from Roundwood, Co Wicklow, had been posting messages during what was his latest ascent of the mountain.

His last post, on Tuesday, said: "Shira 2, 4,000m. Torrential rain all day. Spirits remain good even if drying clothes is proving impossible! We pray for drier weather tomorrow – the big day. It's the Lava Tower."

Born on February 13, 1970, McKeever went from studying social sciences at UCD to his first job as a presenter of traffic news on Radio Ireland, later to become Today FM. That in turn morphed into AA Roadwatch and soon people all over the country were used to McKeever's smooth mid-Atlantic accent as he guided motorists through the morning's roadworks and accidents.

He couldn't sit still for an instant and after hanging up his microphone at 9am he would begin his day as a PR consultant, first as one half of Goodbody McKeever and then Imac.

His media presence was substantial; many journalists in print and broadcast crossed McKeever's path as he scavenged for volunteers to undertake his many 'Santa Cycles' for charity at Christmas which he called 'Operation Rudolph'.

One or two found his style a little overbearing but mostly they acceded to the blond Wicklow man's immense charm and agreed to take part in whatever initiative he was planning.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, himself a conqueror of Kilimanjaro, had encountered McKeever on many occasions and loved his infectious energy. Chernobyl campaigner Adi Roche was a close friend.

One of McKeever's first serious public relations campaigns was on behalf of Ireland's scouts and he did much to raise the profile of various programmes for leaders, particularly ones that involved exploring and foreign travel. He even got Gerry Ryan to do a programme on it.

There was always something on the go. But despite his high profile with media colleagues, McKeever really came into his own as a motivator and mentor for young people.

When he left AA Roadwatch permanently, he devised a series of personal challenges that would make most people's eyes water.

In 2007, he undertook three world record challenges: on mountains, at sea and on land. He wanted to show what was possible through properly channelled belief, motivation and the right preparation, regardless of age or a person's background.

He gave himself five years to complete the missions and first broke the world record for the 'Seven Summits Challenge' by climbing each of the continents' highest peaks in a time of 155 days, knocking 32 days off the record.

In January 2009, he was part of a team that attempted to row the South Atlantic Ocean in a new world record time – but the boat lost its rudder and the team was forced to postpone their attempt.

Most improbably, at the age of 40, he set himself the task of beating running superstar Eamonn Coghlan's four-minute mile record. In just 22 months of training, his time was down from seven minutes to an astonishing four minutes and 20 seconds.

Other equally satisfying challenges emerged and he knocked them over one by one. He climbed the 26 peaks of Ireland in 98 hours and guided his 10-year-old godson Sean McSharry to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro making him the youngest European to ever do so.

Kilimanjaro remained his first love. After founding Kilimanjaro Achievers, he set about partnering local guides and firms in Uganda with the aim of helping as many people as possible to scale its summit. Those achievers included a record 155 Irish schoolchildren.

As well as specialising in motivational talks and speeches, McKeever also had three books to his credit: Give Me Shelter (2007) Give Me Heroes (2009) and Give Me 28 Days (2011).

McKeever loved doing his own thing but he thrived on human contact. "This liberation is wasted if you can't stand the pressures of working on your own," he once said.

"If your job doesn't involve constant interaction with clients, solitary feelings can creep in. I thrive on human contact and would never survive if my daily grind passed entirely without hearing a single voice other than my own."

McKeever had charisma, energy and drive – as well as a rare ability to motivate others. His former radio colleague Ian Dempsey recalled one of McKeever's catchphrases last week as he paid tribute to his friend on Twitter.

"Today we lost Ian McKeever – former colleague, charity fundraiser, adventurer, great radio voice. 'It's about attitude.' RIP."

Ian McKeever is survived by his parents Niall and Aideen, sister Denise and fiancée Anna O'Loughlin.

Ciaran Byrne

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