Just days before well known and much loved teacher James O’Kane from Banagher passed away, younger brother Peter made him a promise.
James had his sights set on competing in one of the hardest competitions in the world, the Ironman UK competition.
James, always a keen sportsman, was an inspiration not only to Peter, but to many who knew him.
“Throughout his life James had a passion for gaelic football, hurling and rugby and later in life took real joy in swimming, cycling and running. Having run the London marathon twice and completed many triathlons, his next goal was to compete in the Ironman UK competition in Bolton,” said Peter. “It was while preparing for this challenge that he was diagnosed with bowel cancer and, on 17th May 2013, he lost his battle and did not get the chance to compete in the competition. In those last days we had together, I promised James that I would do the Ironman for him.”
When Peter told James he would do the Ironman UK, he said “sure you can’t swim and you hate water”, and James was right. Peter couldn’t really swim and, yes, he hated the water. Even living close to Bondi Beach in Australia for a year couldn’t lure him into the water. But, six months on, with the help of lessons, Peter can swim properly.
Since the New Year, he has thrown himself into training, cycling hundreds of miles. While he used to run around the pitch playing football and hurling for Banagher, marathon training has proved a different ball game altogether.
The training has been tough, rising at half five in the morning, running and cycling in all kinds of weather, but it has paid off. Peter says he is a lot fitter than he was six months ago and now he can’t wait until race day, determined to honour’s James’ memory. He has pushed himself to the limit for the gruelling challenge which involves a 6am start for a 2.4 mile open water swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride and finally a 26.2 mile run within a 17 hour time limit.
“I’ve followed a plan and hopefully that will get me through on the day,” says Peter.
Peter is fundraising for a cause very close to his family’s heart.
“Marie Curie provide care and support to people with cancer and other illnesses. We will always be grateful for the care James received and the compassion and kindness shown to us by the Marie Curie staff during such a difficult time. Marie Curie also provided support to my father Patsy during his last days, after living with dementia,” said Peter. “I know that it would be James’ and my father’s wish to thank them for everything they did to support us all.”
Peter says some funds raised will also go towards Sperrin Suite at Altnagelvin to help buy beds for relatives of loved ones staying overnight, and a fridge the unit needs.
In a poignant gesture, he plans to have the Banagher GAC club crest incorporated with the Ironman Logo on his vest on competition day.
“The Banagher crest was designed by James in the late ‘90s with the motto ‘Ni Neart Go Misneach’, meaning ‘No Strength like Courage’ and, towards the end, James had that in abundance.”
Peter said support has been overwhelming, and thanked Gerard Lundy and all at CLavady MAMILs, Triangle Triathlon Club, Northern Velosity and his family, in particular his wife Stephanie for their support during his training.
“When I cross the finish line on the 19th July, the total miles covered in training and the race will be close to 3,000. Putting that into perspective, it’s from Feeny to Barcelona and back. If I could fundraise £1.00 for every mile trained I would be delighted,” said Peter.
To donate, go online at justgiving.com/Ironman