Monday 26 August 2019

Charleville brothers to take on 1,200km cycle in memory of mom

Charleville brother Declan and Pat O’Hara preparing to take on the 1,200km Paris-Brest-Paris cycle later on this month
Charleville brother Declan and Pat O’Hara preparing to take on the 1,200km Paris-Brest-Paris cycle later on this month

Bill Browne

While Charleville brother Declan and Pat O'Hara are no strangers to competing in daunting cycling challenges, their latest one is set to test their fitness and endurance levels to the very limit.

On Sunday, August 18, the intrepid duo will be among more than 6,500 cyclists taking part in the Paris-Brest-Paris, an epic trek across the French countryside in aid of Breakthrough Cancer Research. 

The oldest event of its kind in the world, it dates back to 1891 and will see competitors take on the gruelling 1,200km course within a strict time limit of just 90-hours.  Declan, the MD of McElligott's in Tralee, told The Corkman why he and Pat are taking on the daunting challenge,recalling how, almost 30-years to the date of the event, their 52-year-old mother died of cancer and the impact her death had on their family.

"This disease doesn't just rob you of the person, it robs you of life experiences in your life that you can never imagine. There is a familiar void at every family event, family photos without a wife, mother of the groom or bride, without a granny, always missing that advice that only a mother can bring," said Declan.  He said that over the past three decades the family had been involved in a variety of fundraising events, many of them to do with cycling, in aid of cancer related charities. That started with, in his own words "barely completing the Ring of Kerry",  and has included the 300km challenge around Lake Vattern in Sweden and ascending the infamous Mount Ventoux in France three times in a single day. 

In order to qualify for the Paris-Brest-Paris cycle, which is only held every four-years, the brothers had to complete a series of 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km events across the globe over a period of 20-months. 

These event were set by Audux France, the body that administers a branch of long-distance cycling known as randonneuring, whereby participants have to complete courses of 200km or more within specified time limits. The body's most prestigious event is the Paris-Brest-Paris.  Declan said that, unlike most cycling events, competitors are totally unsupported and have to carry spares, food and extra clothing themselves. They have to check in at specific time control points en-route, meaning that even planning breaks can also prove problematic.  Declan said that the pair have already cycled more than 5,500km this year through training and qualifying, riding in at least one 200km event each month. 

"The toughest events are the 400km due to sleep deprivation. We have slept in barns, covered stands in GAA pitches, school yard sheds and doorways. I have suffered from hallucinations where I refused to cycle back down a road that we had just come up in the middle of night (we had taken a wrong turn)  because I said the road was full of angry dogs," he laughed.  "The smallest thing can break you. Our fitness level is actually the least of your worries.

Preparation and attention to detail are key." At this point, the question on many peoples lips will be why choose such an unusual and difficult challenge when it might be easier to do something less physically taxing?  "In answer to that, we wanted to pick something that was worthy of sponsorship, something people haven't been asked to support before and, more importantly we are healthy, we are strong and fit and want this challenge to be in memory of our mother," said Declan.  He said the cancer that killed their mother 30-years ago would now be diagnosed much earlier and the treatments with that early diagnosis would today have saved her life. 

"It is because of Breakthrough Cancer Research that these advances are made and through funding these projects we can beat this devastating disease. Breakthrough Cancer Research are focused on poor prognosis and currently incurable cancers to help those who at this moment cannot be saved," said Declan.  "We are personally funding all aspects of this trip ourselves and all money donated goes directly to Breakthrough Cancer Research. We would be incredibly grateful for any donations for this very worthy charity and whatever you can afford will be truly appreciated".  People can donate by visiting