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Extreme runner’s 300 mile Arctic adventure!

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If it came down to sorting out the odd socks accumulating for years in the chest of drawers or running 300 miles pulling your own sled in sub-zero temperatures across one of the remotest places in the world, most people would choose the painstaking chore of matching up their odd socks . . . right?

Not extreme adventure and Knocknacarra man Gavan Hennigan, who is currently one of 35 competitors taking on the Yukon Arctic Ultra 300 mile race in temperatures of between -20 to -50 in the wilds of Canada.

He confesses he would rather do that – or run across a frozen lake in Siberia or row across the Atlantic Sea, both of which, by the way, he intends to do later this year – than embrace the mundane task of tackling his sock drawer. It’s on his list. Just not top of it.

Hennigan is a man who loves the feeling of being alive.  However, it was not always so, as he told the 400 people who turned up to hear his remarkable story at the inaugural Tri Talking Sport evening run by founder and presenter Joanne Murphy at the Salthill Hotel last week.

A drug addict by the time he was 21 – living on the floor of a sparse London flat – Hennigan battled his way through “dark times” before finally coming back home to enter rehab and being the process of putting his life back together.

It wasn’t easy. Far from it. He tried to kill himself and ended up in the psychiatric ward in Galway. Added to this, Hennigan had to come to terms with his own sexuality – of being gay. “And I couldn’t deal with that,” he bravely told a captive audience.

With no Leaving Cert and unable to drive, he left for Australia to seek out a new beginning ten years ago and ended up becoming a deep sea diver, working on oil rigs in places as far flung as Russia and Africa.

His job would consist of spending up to 28 days at a time with three to nine other men in a pressurised container up to 200metres under the sea, carrying out heavy construction, fitting or wielding.

“The job really opened up the world to me,” Hennigan told the Tribune last week.  “I worked all over the world, many different places, and it has been an amazing journey. It was great to have a chance at life again and to go from what I was facing – which, ultimately, was death from alcohol and drugs – to being able to travel and fill up nearly three passports.”

With oil prices dropping, due to oversupply, the work has presently dried up. In order to sate his hunger for the extreme though, Hennigan decided to dip into his savings. “The diving itself was almost like an adventure for me. I love that job.

“Now I just want to look elsewhere for things to challenge myself. That is where the idea of doing this ultra marathon and these other tough challenges came in. I want to test my mettle and my mental strength in these areas.

“Hopefully, while doing so, I can also inspire others to get out there. It doesn’t have to be an ultra marathon, it can be a 5km or 10km – just be out there and enjoying the world a bit more.”

Surely there are easier ways to do that than risking life and limb. “This is what happens when you don’t drink. You end up doing crazy things,” he laughs. “I am sure there are easier things but for me I have been always drawn to the wilderness and wild places around the world.”

Consequently, as you read this, the 34-year-old – who is also undertaking these events to raise money for a child he knows with cerebral palsy and who needs an operation – has departed Whitehorse, Yukon, with his sled and equipment in tow.

The non stop, self-sufficient race, founded in 2003, is billed as the toughest ultra marathon in the world where the temperatures can drop to -50 degrees plus wind chill.

“So, frostbite is very real out there,” continued the Galway man. “You have to wear a lot of layers of clothes, you cover up all your skin and you have to take on a lot of calories and really look after yourself.

“You also have to be hyper-aware of the conditions and yourself. It is a huge test not only physically but mentally. You have to stay in the race by looking after yourself. That is really important.

“I am flying completely solo out there but there will be checkpoints along the way and people helping me out. Ultimately though, it is up to me to carry all my equipment in my sled, which I will be dragging behind me, and to look after myself.”

Just to put it all in perspective, Hennigan’s extreme adventure begins less than a fortnight after the death of SAS veteran, Henry Worsley, as he attempted to complete the first solo crossing of Antarctica. The 55-year-old died 30 miles short of his goal.

With another adventure across Lake Baikal – the world’s largest freshwater lake – in southern Siberia scheduled for March and an attempt to row solo across the Atlantic Sea in the pipeline for later in the year, it would make you wonder if Hennigan, himself, has a death wish.

“People must be wondering if I do or not,” he grins. “You do have the rational fears of the boat capsizing or getting frostbite or whatever, but a lot of these things can be managed. So, for me, a lot of those are controllable.

“There is a lot of stuff however out of my control and I suppose it is just about taking the chance really. Of course, these things are not worth dying for but they are worth living for. It is completely worth living for to go out and try these things. I didn’t get clean from alcohol and drugs to live a mundane life. I wanted excitement and I wanted fun and this is where I find it.”

Yet Hennigan is also motivated by another factor. “I am raising a bit of money for a young lad called Johan Jacobsen and his family – his mother Breda is from Galway – and I am trying to raise the money to get him an operation. He has cerebral palsy, he is two years old, and he is unable to walk at the moment.

“So, that is a big motivator for me. I am quite lucky that I am able to get out there and do stuff like this. That is a big driving force to be able to help those guys out as well,” concludes the extreme adventurer.

■ For anyone who would like to follow Gavan’s adventures or donate to this worthy cause, visit his Facebook page. As of this week, he has already raised in excess of €4,000.

Connacht Tribune

Covid boosts college coffers

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NUI Galway

NUI Galway reported an operating surplus of almost €19 million during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic when its campus was closed for months.

The healthy finances reported by NUIG has prompted its student body to call for it to waive repeat exams’ fees and student levies, and to invest in mental health services.

Consolidated financial statements for NUIG for the year ended September 30 2020 show the university reported an operating surplus of €18.9 million. This was up by €16 million on the surplus generated in 2019.

The financial statement said that while Covid-19 was ‘extremely challenging’, the ‘extraordinary dedication and work ethic of its staff have mitigated against the financial impact’ of the year.

The report said a surplus of €18.9 million was a ‘commendable performance’ given that 95%  of staff and students withdrew from campus in March 2020 to study and work remotely in line with Government regulations.

It noted that core income fell by a net €4 million compared with the previous year.

“Drops in research income of €9m and a Covid-related decline in commercial and student accommodation income of some €5m were offset by increased fee income of €4m, a €3m increase in the fair value of investments, and other increases of €3m relating to Government grants and other income,” the report said.

It said that the increase in Government grants includes Covid Support grant funding from the Higher Education Authority to cover additional specific Covid-19 related costs of €2.2m.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Workers leave hospitality sector to seek job security

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Pearse Doherty...morale has never been lower.

The severe restrictions for hospitality and entertainment are widely expected to be lifted next month – but already workers in the sector are reportedly leaving in their droves to source more stable employment.

And that could spell disaster for Galway’s vibrant arts industry which is a crucial cog in the wheel of local tourism.

When Covid regulations are eased for those staging events – thought to be announced this week – one of their biggest challenges is to secure staff for operations, according to prominent Galway event organiser Pearse Doherty.

Morale has never been lower in the industry, with even loyal customers getting fed up having to book and reschedule constantly when the goalposts shift so many times for shows.

“I really think it’s going to be very difficult for any venue going back or festival being staged. I don’t think things are ever going to go back to normal. Any event over 5,000 people will likely have to have fewer tents, a bigger space – all these things have to be taken into consideration for people who invest in the business,” he reflects.

“Having 50 per cent capacity and closing time at 8pm does nothing to make things financially viable. A lot of business models are built on having a bar and selling to 100 per cent capacity so I’m just not sure how many will survive the pandemic, even with all the very welcome Government supports for the industry.”

He knows of many in the industry who are changing careers or moving abroad in search of work in a location where restrictions nowhere as strict.

The head of production for the doomed Galway Capital of Culture 2020, head of production for Aiken Promotions which is behind the biggest gigs in the country and the site manager for the Electric Picnic, Pearse has himself pivoted in his career, taking up the role of producer with Fíbín Theatre at An Taibhdhearc.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway author dedicates children’s book to brave young nephew battling DMD

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Dedication....Fionn Brogan – new book aims to help in his fight.

A flying mouse with a skill for hurling is the subject of a book a Galway man has dedicated to his cousin’s son – six-year-old Fionn Brogan who, like Lumo the mouse, must overcome a myriad of challenges in his everyday life.

Ballinderreen man Tom Costelloe tells the Connacht Tribune he wrote the book to raise funds for his cousin Michael’s son, inspired by the strength and resilience Fionn has shown since his diagnosis of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) when he was just three years old.  A disease which attacks the muscles, DMD will leave Fionn unable to play football or do many of the things he loves to do as time goes on.

As a result, his family wants to raise enough funds to make the next few years the best possible for Fionn – and aim to adapt their house so he can freely use a power wheelchair among other alterations that will be required.

For Tom, who works as a speech and language therapist, the Covid lockdowns presented an opportunity to put pen to paper and create this story of Lumo, a mouse with wings.

“With a positive message of self-acceptance, the story is brought to life with wonderful colourful illustrations by Thomas Quinn from Kinvara.

“Like Lumo the flying mouse, Fionn and his family have no shortage of strength, resilience and sprit – and thanks to our printing costs being generously sponsored, every euro raised from the sales goes directly to the Fionn Brogan trust,” he says.

Tom, who lives in Galway City, says the family had a series of fundraisers over the past year and he hopes this will add to the momentum of achieving what’s necessary to support Fionn as he continues to defy all odds.

And through his work, he’s had a good research group to test-run Lumo – getting very positive feedback.

“I work with kids so they became my research team, and they were very useful in making sure the book was of interest,” he laughs.

‘Could a Flying Mouse Play Hurling?’ is available in in Clarke’s Pharmacy Kilcolgan, Burke’s Eurospar Kinvara, Circle-K Kinvara, Poppyseed Café Clarinbridge and First Chapter in Gort.  For more information on the Fionn Brogan Trust, visit fionnbrogantrust.ie where donations can also be made.

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