Nick Edmund is counting down the days to the end of his Wild Atlantic Way walk, writes Kevin Markham.
You’ve heard of Nick Edmund, haven’t you? If not, perhaps you know him as the man walking the Wild Atlantic Way, carrying his golf clubs and visiting every golf course.
If that doesn’t ring a bell, then you haven’t been paying attention, for this is one of those heart-warming and inspiring stories of commitment, determination and selflessness... and all for a good cause.
This 2,500-kilometre walk along Ireland’s west coast is to raise awareness of cancer. Yes, we know about cancer, but there’s more to it than that: One in four people in the UK are affected by cancer in some shape or other; four million people in the UK are expected to be suffering from cancer by 2030; and the number four and the word ‘fore’ are an integral part of golf. You see where I’m going with this?
Originally from Devon in England, Nick is 57 years old and has had a long and interesting career in golf. He started as a golf writer (his book Following the Fairways ran for 14 editions), was the man responsible for introducing Nick Faldo to Ballyliffin (where he is also a member) and he went on to run Nick Faldo’s design business for many years.
In 2012, however, he found a new calling.
There is a cruel irony to his story. After parting ways with Faldo, Nick completed a charity walk for cancer to the Himalayas.
It was his first such endeavour — he raised £5,000 (€5,694) — and on the trek he met the head of MacMillan Cancer Support, one of Britain’s largest charities. They discussed the opportunities that golf presented to raise cancer awareness and funds.
Nick had ideas for a flag that could be flown at golf clubs willing to help him, but as the idea developed, he himself was diagnosed with cancer in his head and neck, in 2014.
He had his right parotid gland and the lymph nodes on the right side of his neck removed. In 2016, he had a tumour removed from his forehead. You’d think things couldn’t get worse... but there was more to come.
During this time, Nick started thinking how he could make a real impact in the golf world. He set up his own charity, Global-Golf4-Cancer, which would partner with local charities, such as MacMillan, and co-ordinate with golf clubs eager to be promoted and contribute to the cause.
After making a few trips to Ireland in 2016, and seeing signs for the Wild Atlantic Way, he decided walking this route would make for one hell of an opening splash for his campaign.
However, with his plans to walk the route in place, including a four-day test run around the Inishowen Peninsula completed, Nick endured a major setback, when his right hip had to be replaced with a ceramic version in December 2016.
“How long till I can start this walk?” he asked the surgeon.
“You’ll need 90 days to recover,” the surgeon replied.
And 91 days later, Nick started his Wild Atlantic Way adventure. You can’t, it appears, keep a good man down.
The walk kicked off on Malin Head on March 4, 2017 — yes, as in ‘march forth’ — and, walking in the region of 18 miles a day, he headed for Galway, along one of the most beautiful coastal driving routes in the world.
Let’s back up here a little and talk about why Nick chose the Wild Atlantic Way. For one thing, he admits that at 2,500km he hadn’t realised quite how long it was. For another, he appreciated that Irish golf clubs and the Irish people would be very welcoming.
He was helped greatly in this regard by John McLaughlin from North & West Coast Links. It was John who introduced Nick to Richie Flaherty, the CEO of Cancer Care West, in Galway. It was a perfect fit for what Nick was trying to achieve.
Organising something similar in Britain, Nick says, would have been more difficult, as golf clubs there are far more conservative in their approach.
Nick’s goal was to play the fourth hole of the 40 golf clubs along the route, and fly a ‘Global-Golf4-Cancer 4-Flag’ on that hole. His initial trip was from Malin Head to Galway, at which point he would take the summer off to avoid the warmest, brightest weather.
The plan was to follow this with another two-month stint starting on September 4, 2017, finishing exactly two months later... but that’s not how things worked out.
In October 2017, Nick received news that another lump that had appeared on his head and would require four weeks of radiotherapy treatment. When that didn’t prove effective, surgery lasting nine-and-a-half hours was needed.
Skip forward to March 2018, and Nick returned to Galway.
“I won’t deny, it’s been a difficult few months, but I didn’t imagine for one minute that I might not be returning to the west coast,” said Nick. “For one thing, it is an extraordinarily beautiful place and, from the far north of Donegal to the most remote corners of Connemara, I have always received an incredibly warm welcome.
“Moreover, it became clear to me that cancer has touched the lives of so many of the people I’ve met along the Wild Atlantic Way that I feel I owe it to them, as well as the golf clubs and countless individuals who have been helping and encouraging me, to complete this journey.”
As the saying goes, what doesn’t break you makes you stronger. His cancer hasn’t broken him and, despite being bent in half by the winds and the cold and the snow, the Wild Atlantic Way hasn’t broken him either.
“I was motivated at the start, but I’m even more determined now,” said Nick recently when the Irish Examiner caught up with him in Portmagee, Co Kerry.
You might think such determination is unnecessary, as he has just four days left to go and can almost see the finish line as he heads towards Kinsale and Old Head, but that is a long way from the truth. Nick has plans, big plans.
He wants to see the Global-Golf4-Cancer 4-Flag flying on fourth hole in clubs around the world. They have already flown in Vietnam and Spain, among others.
He hasn’t finished walking either: Next up is the more modest Prestwick to Royal Dornoch walk, followed by a walk along the Northern Ireland coastline... and more walks will follow.
One can’t help but think of Forrest Gump running endlessly back and forth across the US, but with a ceramic hip and several cancers under his belt.
Nick also has plans to walk to the top of Croagh Patrick, carrying his golf clubs... with 100 golfers doing likewise. Now, that would be a sight.
His initial goal was not fundraising but awareness. Little did he understand the generosity of the Irish. People have stopped him or walked alongside him and thrust money into his hands.
Golf clubs have held events and raised thousands for Cancer Care West. Nick has yet to add up all of the cash presented to him, but it runs to many hundreds of euro and, when his walk is finished it will all be presented to the Galway charity.
He has just four days left, so there’s still time to take a walk with Nick. You’ll find him to be humble and modest and tired, but also very grateful and satisfied.
“I’m happier now, almost more than at any other time in my life,” he says. “It’s as if my senses are sharpened to give me a better perspective on things.” Honorary Irishman status guaranteed.
There’s one final tale to tell which balances well with his final four days. On just the fourth day of his odyssey, making his way to Buncrana, Nick nearly stopped.
After the first mile, his body was struggling to continue, his hip was burning, his right knee was swollen, his feet had blisters and he’d just discovered how painful shin splints could be. In driving Donegal rain he questioned himself.
Then, Ireland happened.
Firstly, a member at Ballyliffin came out of his front gates to offer encouragement, then a cyclist appeared to ask what he was doing and handed over some cash.
Later, as Nick struggled again, an 80-year-old man came out of his house and hobbled down to meet Nick. In the pouring rain and with shaking hands, he gave Nick a €20 note.
He clasped Nick’s arm and said “shoot a 65”, before heading back to the warmth of his house. It was a huge motivator for Nick.
Other such moments followed and Nick saw these people almost as angels sent to inspire him.
It was the last encounter of the day, however, that stands out as a magical moment for him.
As night fell in Buncrana, tired and wet, Nick needed one more angel. One duly appeared.
A woman in her 60s approached him and donated €20. She asked where Nick was going and then offered to walk with him to the hotel. It was close to two kilometres, but she walked him all the way to the front door.
“Do you mind me asking what’s your name,” Nick asked.
“Gloria,” she replied, before slipping away into the darkness.
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