“Recovery is ongoing. I have a brain injury, I am a quarter blind in both eyes, I have vertigo, a damaged left knee and right ankle, reduced hearing in my left ear and also had a damaged coccyx. But I never give up.”
Just two years on from a life-changing accident in which he suffered extensive injuries, Eamonn Cashin is now a first year UCC student of Sports Studies and Physical Education and he is preparing for the biggest test of his life.
This test will not take place in an exam hall however. This weekend, Eamonn will take on one of the most gruelling tests of endurance and running power on the planet in the form of the Polar Bear Challenge in the Arctic Circle, vying to be the first ever Irish person to complete it.
Competing in sub-zero temperatures surrounded by the ice and snow of Greenland’s Tundra, Cashin will participate in a marathon on Saturday and a half marathon the very next day.
“This will undoubtedly be the coolest experience of your life,” claims the race’s website and we believe them. Temperatures could fall as low as minus-20 degrees celsius during the races.
“A lot of people have asked me how can you actually prepare for that cold?,” said Eamonn.
“The reality is unless you’re running in a freezer on a treadmill, you’re not going to be able to prepare physically for that.”
When asked what his biggest motivation was, he said “recovery is huge.”
“I just said to myself you have to get better. You can try and act the hard man if you want to or even go into denial that you are injured, but the reality is different.”
On December 11, 2013, Eamonn was struck by a car while riding his bicycle. He was a secondary school teacher at the time of the accident but due to bouts of amnesia, Eamonn could no longer be a teacher.
A mere ten months after the accident, Eamonn ran his first marathon in Dublin. “I went through a lot to make the start line,” he said. “I didn’t take it on lightly. Initially just keeping my balance was a big issue.”
Eamonn recalled that when he returned to running after the accident he would experience dizzy spells.
Mere months after the accident, Eamonn ran his first long distance race, a 5k charity run in Waterford and he recalled a conversation he had with another runner on the starting line.
“I remember very clearly this lady said this is my first 5k, do you think I’ll be okay?,” he recalled. “I never said why I was there. I just said listen you’ll be okay, I’ll wait for you at the finish line and I’ll shout you on.”
Eamonn completed the run and waited at the finish line for the woman.
“I spoke to her at another event,” he said “and she said I wouldn’t have finished that only for you said to me you’d wait for me at the finish line.”
“She said I heard you and I could see you waving your hand and screaming go on so I drove on she said,” he laughed.
“It was great to help these charities and do these events and my health was benefiting as well,” he said.
“So from the unbalance to being able to stand up straight to reach the finish line in a 5k to your 10k to your 10 mile through to your half marathon and marathon. It’s a step by step process.”
Just a year after the accident, in 2014, Eamonn paid a deposit for the Polar Bear Challenge, a huge step from where he had been both mentally and physically just a few months previously.
“I’d already decided this was what I wanted.”
Another decision he didn’t take lightly. “There was no off-the-cuff decisions. I had to talk to my wife and we have a nine-month old now, Paddy, and I had to take him into consideration too.”
Despite his determination to finish the race, Eamonn said it will be approached with his health and well-being in mind.
“I’m looking forward to it but again it will be approached responsibly. If it’s not going well I’ll be the first to pull myself out. I won’t be waiting for a medical person to turn around and say it.
“Before they say it to me, I’ll be the one to say look it’s over, if it is over,” he said “but I don’t see it going that way. Training has gone really really well.”
As well as running marathons in different parts of the country, Eamonn finds time to run at home in Waterford. He runs up the mountain to Cruachan to the cross on top, then turns around and heads for home again.
“For me the cross was symbolic,” he said. “For me the top of the mountain is recovery.”
While the road to recovery may be potholed with doubts, Eamon knows it’s the days when you battle through despite your misgivings that will benefit you more.
“There can be days where that doubt is there, even before breakfast when you wake up and open your eyes and it’s happened to me, where you say I just don’t want to do it,” he said.
“When you do it, it far outweighs that doubt.”
“It extinguishes that doubt.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved