No stopping Christy's comeback
Adrian 'Christy' O'Connor was placed in a coma in 2004 after a brain injury. His chances of walking, talking and even survival were low. But it wasn't the end of the road, as Tadhg Evans found out
Adrian 'Christy' O'Connor's comeback didn't merely defy medical predictions; it blew them asunder.
He'd likely never walk or talk again, he was told after sustaining a brain injury in London in late 2004; he has since finished three full marathons and is closing in on his 10th half marathon. 'Christy's Come Back' is a modest title for his freshly published memoirs, that most extraordinary of contexts considered.
"In December 2004, I was over in England for a wedding party, the wedding of two of my friends," he says of the day his life took its detour. "There was a gang of us on the way back from a nightclub, and we were doing the usual messing you have after nights out. We found an old chair with wheels, and we started pushing each other around in it, you know yourself.
"When it was my go to hop up on the chair, I ran away and tripped over a small wall. I fell, and the right-hand side of my skull hit the pavement."
The Clochán man suffered a traumatic brain injury and was placed in an induced coma. His survival was no certainty; his odds of walking and talking were slimmer still.
"But that wasn't the end of me, and that's the message I want to get out there to people," he says. "A brain injury doesn't have to be the end of the road. You can still have a good life. I did"
We're sitting at the bar in Dingle's Skellig Hotel this Monday morning, two days after he launched his first book in O'Connor's Bar in his native parish.
On the night of its launch, The Kerryman called out to Clochán after Adrian agreed to an interview. Alas, we hadn't accounted for his popularity, which became hearteningly clear upon entering O'Connor's.
While a dark, damp night took hold of a parish at the toes of Mount Brandon, dozens of people, perhaps a few hundred, took cover in the homely Clochán bar, and a queue snaked through the sky-blue room to the table at which Adrian was seated. As he penned his signature to each copy, the assembly of well-wishers seemed to gain new recruits by the second.
It was going to be some time before he'd get away from his task. With that, this writer tapped him on the shoulder and told him we'd leave the interview for a couple of days and to enjoy his night.
As he polishes off a coffee in the Skellig this morning, Adrian's enthusiasm hasn't dimmed in the days since passed.
"This is a happy story," he says. "The accident is only a small part of this book. What I've done since is a much bigger part of it.
"The journey back was a 'bóthar fada' for me - but I made it. As you can see on the front of the book, running is a big part of my life now. That picture was taken when I did the Dublin Marathon in 2008; that was my first one, and I did two more after that.
"The Dingle Marathon in 2010 took me a long while though; I was more than 10 hours on the road. Since 2011, it's been the half marathon in Dingle every year. I'm already getting things sorted for 2019!"
Comebacks like these don't take hours, days, or even weeks. His life, for some time, spun from University Hospital Kerry to Cork University Hospital to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, from tube-feedings to operations to times spent in a wheelchair.
It wasn't until October 2006 that he walked unsupported again. It was on Fermoyle beach, around ten metres from his brother's car, that he set his tripod aside and tried what most of us have taken as given since we were toddlers.
He made it back to the car that day, and his determination has taken him much further since.
"Running to Castlegregory from my home, that's 10.5 kilometres - so I've a half-marathon done there," he says. "Usually on Saturdays, when the weather is good, I'll do it. But, as you know yourself, you often don't get the weather in west Kerry; whenever I want, though, I'll go and do it.
"I picked up qualifications from the National Learning Network and Tralee Community College, but those marathons and half marathons, and this book, are my proudest achievements. And when I have my tenth half marathon done, I'll go back and do a 'full' again."
His book, as the 42-year-old words it himself, tells a largely happy story - but there are regrets. In 2004 he was in the second year of his Civil Engineering studies at UCC and was living with his then-girlfriend. He never graduated from that course, and he feels his chance at marriage has passed him by. He cannot drive, and while his love of GAA didn't fade, he never crossed the white lines again.
That said, the accident also brought him experiences he'd have never enjoyed otherwise.
"I'd probably have never had written for local media or have been written about in local and national media," he says. "And I'm certain I'd have never picked up an award at the Dingle People of the Year Awards in 2015.
"I have regrets, and there are things I can't do. But there are things I can do, too. I've found things that make me happy; I've finished marathons, and now I'm a writer, I'm in the same territory as Con Dennehy and Enid Bloyton!
"The medics said I'd never walk or talk again; well, they were so bloody wrong."
A promotional event will take place in the Sportsfield Bar, Tralee, at 8pm on December 15, the 14th anniversary of Adrian's accident.
In Dingle, 'Christy's Come Back' is available in An Café Liteartha and Dingle Bookshop, as well as a number of stores and supermarkets.
In Tralee, it's in the Kerry Bookshop and Polymaths.
By the way, Adrian gained the nickname, 'Christy', at a time when he had long hair and a striking tan, leaving him looking a bit like Chris de Burgh.