Addicted to adventure

Damian Browne.
Damian Browne.

Lifestyle – Former professional rugby player Damian Browne has found a new focus for his energies –  extreme sports. As he prepares for his greatest challenge yet, a solo row across the Atlantic Ocean,  he tells Judy Murphy what motivates him.

Damian Browne’s obsession with rugby began at the age of 11 when he joined Galwegians Rugby Club in Galway City, across from the family home in Renmore. On his debut outing with ’Wegians, he missed his first tackle – and got a kick in the face. For most kids, that might have been the end of their career, but Damian was different.

“It unleashed something in me,” he recalls. “And I loved it. I loved the sense of letting go, that commitment to a tackle, the physical side of it.”

That passion saw Damian, the eldest in a family of three, embark on a professional rugby career that led him to play second row with Connacht before moving abroad, first to England and then to France.

Since an injury prematurely ended his rugby career in 2015, his sense of adventure has found a new and unusual outlet. This gentle giant is now into extreme sports. To date, Damian has climbed Mont Blanc and Gran Paradiso, summitted Kilimanjaro, taken part in high-altitude treks in Peru, Kyrgyzstan and an expedition into the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan. He’s been to volcanic lava lakes in Rwanda and Ethiopia and completed six marathons over six days across the Sahara in Morocco. Through that, he raised nearly €7,000 for Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association and Amani Children’s Home, Tanzania.

His latest undertaking is his most ambitious yet. In December, 37-year-old Damian will set out to row solo across the Atlantic – a 4,800km challenge from the Canaries to Antigua in the West Indies. He’s the second Galwayman in as many years to take on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge and will raise funds for three charities in the process.

“I’ve a personality that keeps having to push further and explore more,” he says. “The more I push, the more reward I seem to get back – it’s kind of addictive.”

Over coffee in the city’s Black Gate Café, he explains that he’s been planning to do this race for about five years and had originally hoped to do it last year. As it happened, 2016 didn’t work for him, but when he was researching last year’s race, he got a surprise.

“I went to the website and found there was an entrant from Ireland, Gavan Hennigan. Then I saw he was from Galway,” he says.  Since more people have summited Everest and been to space than have completed this row, it’s some coincidence.

Gavan, who finished the race in under 50 days, has been a great help to Damian, advising on the boat and facilities that will best help the Renmore man row the 4,800km crossing.

“He’s been very helpful and patient, because with ocean-rowing, you have to ask a lot of simple questions – you are trying to decipher a language you don’t understand,” says Damian.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.