Retired Derry teacher Fidelma Hodkinson is set to take the world of athletics by storm when she competes in the World Transplant Games in July next year in Durban.
It is something she admits, she never thought she would see herself doing - and the road to South Africa has been far from easy - but with an inner strength and determination that would put many to shame, Fidelma is going to be one of a handful of people from Northern Ireland - and the only person from Derry - to compete in the games.
Her trip to Durban comes after she has had two consecutively successful years at the UK Transplant Games - last year held in Belfast and this year in Kent. In both games she came away with a clatter of medals.
But more than the gold, silver and bronze she was able to bring back to her Colby Avenue home, the games gave Fidelma a focus and confidence boost after battling a life threatening illness.
Ten years ago Fidelma was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and required bone marrow donation from her sister, Fiona, to save her.
“I just knew something was wrong, ” Fidelma said. “I was so very tired. Before that I could have run up Shipquay Street without any trouble but then I was just weighed down with tiredness. I also started to get very confused - my head just wasn’t right.”
Fidelma went to see her GP who dismissed her symptoms as “just middle age” but she said she was so sure that something was wrong she decided to ask for a second opinion.
“It was that second opinion, with haematologist Dr. Morris at Belfast City Hospital which delivered the hammer blow that she had leukaemia.
Even with that diagnosis under her belt, Fidelma however remained positive and determined to get through her illness with the support of her devoted husband, Oliver and two children Clare and Johnny.
And the battle was tough. Two rounds of intensive chemotherapy left Fidelma without her hair. A short stay in hospital left her with a serious infection. To continue with her treatment, the best way forward was to essentially kill off her immune system leaving her exceptionally vulnerable to even the slightest cold.
When she was ready for her transplant she had to spend six weeks in isolation in the City Hospital, Belfast to allow her battered immune system the chance to regenerate. Such a prolonged period of illness left her physically and emotionally bruised.
“It was a difficult time, ” she says simply, recalling that once she was well enough she would go up and down to Fahan and spend some time on the beach. “I’d walk or do Tai Chi, or Yoga. It was important - for my sanity. It’s important to let yourself know you are still alive.”
While Fidelma is now recovered, she still finds it difficult to talk about that time in her life. “It doesn’t matter how many years will pass, I think I will always feel the same about it,” she said.
But she is very much determined to live life to the full - even if that means pushing herself outside of her comfort zone at times.
And travelling to South Africa - and fundraising for the trip - are things she never thought she would find herself doing.
She is currently training for the games and hoping to compete in cycling and running.
She will be attending a couple of training weekends in Warwickshire and has a busy year ahead - not least raising the money she needs to travel to the games with her husband Oliver and son by her side to support her.
Fidelma is keen to hear from anyone who wishes to support the Transplant Games or who can offer advice on fundraising. She can be contacted on 07875049326.
To find out more about Transplant Sport visit www.transplantsport.org.uk or to find out more about the Anthony Nolan Trust and bone marrow transplants visit www.anthonynolan.org