The Fight – Fran McDermott

On a climb in W200 I asked myself “what am I doing here?

I was hurting.

I wasn’t here to race but to stay the distance.

From the offset I could picture it. I knew there’d be a time that day when I’d feel like giving up. I’ve not reached that point before on the bike. Today I was going to learn a little more about myself. I was excited at the thought; another great unknown.

I was clinging to the wheel in front when a lad pulled in. I followed his lead. My chest was on fire & my legs were spent. I was hauling all 6 5” and 95kgs of me. Gravity wasn’t my friend. I took a breather, got back on bike and fell off the other side. My legs were like jelly. For a split second on ground I wondered if I’d be able to finish. I got up as fast as I could to lessen the embarrassment. Eoin came back for me and told me to stay on his wheel.

Soon after the pain returned. I felt like throwing my bike in a ditch. I got so angry, tears streamed behind my shades. It was torturous; a sufferfest. My body was failing me again. My body was screaming “STOP!”

 

Giving up wasn’t an option.

I was there to raise money for Beaumont Hospital Fund, telling my Dad “if I fight, you fight” and remembering my fight. Giving up wasn’t an option. I’d seen this fight before: “Son, you never quit”. I’m in survival mode. I could walk up this hill but that’s not me. I’m too stubborn for that. I’m Prefontaine on a bike: “I don’t want to win unless I know I’ve done my best, and the only way I know how to do that is to run out front, flat out until I have nothing left.” When I am on a bike I am fighting. I’m fighting back… I’m passing lads on that climb.

My highlight that day wasn’t the big climbs. It was Eoin shouting back at me “up up up” as I turned the corner and faced a short steep climb could’ve caught me out. I lit up. A close second was “is this where we stop talking??” (I laughed) as we began to climb Wicklow Gap in the fog & rain. We crossed the line together. He knew what it meant to me.

The first I knew about cycling was in Beaumont Hospital aged 20. Scared shitless. A fellow patient handed me a book (no prizes for guessing) about a friend that’d been through similar. How far can my body take me on this journey? I decided to save the book until I needed it most. I read the line on a lonely long night in hospital. “Son, you never quit”. I took it as my own. I’m in hell. I’ve to find something and keep moving forward.  

 

A Long Journey

It been a long journey: Ball cancer. Surgery. Chemo. Chest surgery. Collapsed lungs. Recovery. CT scans. Blood tests. Check-ups. 10 years. All clear. 3 months. Throat lump. Surgery. Lymph nodes surgery. Thyroid surgery. Radioactive therapy. Isolation. All clear. Hard work.

Life without a thyroid is an absolute game changer. I was so grateful to be able to go on long walks. One step at a time…

I continued walking. I always knew there was huge fight in me. It’s then I read (Chimp Paradox). I was looking for inspiration; “it helped Ronnie”. This simple sentence is one I tell myself every day: “If you measure success in life by effort and doing your best, then it’s always in your hands to success and to be proud of yourself.” I owned it. I survived cancer twice but my journey wasn’t complete until I realised I could apply the same fight to “good pain” and exercise. For years I told myself I could not do it. The source of the motivation was to prove myself wrong; me against myself. I had to tackle life after cancer with the same strength I fought cancer. I’d not run for years. I trained for 8 weeks and completed the marathon in sub 5 hours. I wasn’t built for speed but to endure. It wasn’t a race. I thought running was the only drug I needed. That and Eutirox.

 

How did I start?

How did I start cycling? It’s early 2015 and I’m 33. Eoin encouraged all of us to get bikes. We’d lost our best friend. Stan was like a brother to me. Eoin put the Ring of Kerry in our diary. We’d 6 months to get a bike and get in shape. I was apprehensive. Cycling was always a huge fear of mine. I’m pretty accident prone. A few broken legs ended my goalkeeping “career”. But I was willing to give it a shot. I needed another outlet.

My life was moving toward the bike, little did I know. I met Anne. My first words to her were “I see you like the loyal lieutenant”. Her family & friends are cycling mad. She encouraged me to get on the bike. She knew the benefits. Clear the head. Anne has a friend with a bike shop. He sorted me out with a class bike. Thanks Morgan. I looked at it for a week before clipping in and headed for Howth. I was told to stay clear of hills but I didn’t listen. I needed to know. The first time up Howth I doubted if cycling was for me. But like running I decided to give it a go and only asked the best of myself. This sweet machine was motivation enough to get out as much as possible. I began to love hills. Hills are more than just legs and heart.  I guess I’ve been training my whole life for them. I began to understand “Son, you never quit” more. I always come home with a smile on my face after a good ride. The pain is cleansing. It clears out any negative thoughts in my mind. It’s productive. My legs are getting stronger.

We finished the Ring of Kerry and crossed the line together. “How you getting’ on LAD” on our backs in the Carlow colours. Great effort from the lads. For me cycling was more than just that day. Some of the other lads haven’t been on bike since. I was hooked. It was going to become part of my life. I know what’s good, what works for me. I’ve no excuses but to keep doing the right things.

My times up Howth dropped. I’m progressing nicely. I’m tipping home through Howth village. A car breaks the white line and turns right taking the racing line. I’ve nowhere to go. I’ve a split second. “FUCK!” Survival mode; I stood up on bike instinctively! The car was a write off, as was my bike. I’m alive. I’d cuts and bruises. My scaphoid was fractured and shoulder damaged. I hit the car a crash ball. Someone was smiling down on me. Weeks early at Suir Valley I learned a valuable lesson. The helmet should be glued to your head. Mine was that day. It was cracked and saved my life. However my biggest concern was my bike. Bollox! I’m off the road for 4 months. I’ve no bike. I’m back running. Morgan sorted me out again, a sweeter machine (always upgrade). I wanted another challenge in early 2016 and all roads led to the W200.

A mate was new to cycling and asked me to do Ring of Kerry with him in Jul-16. I was delighted to encourage and help him. There was huge demand for places and we didn’t gain entry. Luckily Pieta House gave us two places. This is a charity dear to my heart. We’d signed up to raise money; a commitment. However he pulled out with only 4 weeks to go. I couldn’t let the charity down. Worst case I’ll do it on my own. I scanned through mates that had a bike and none were available. I then looked at close mates and placed them on a bike. Who has the right mind-set? I asked my best man Paddy. He’d never been on a bike before, “clips ins”? The other lads all thought I was mad asking him, that I was being selfish. “He’d never be able.” But I knew Paddy and he knew me. We’d been through a lot together. I believed he’d be more than able. I took him out the first day and we went up Howth. We took a breather and headed back up the steeper village climb. This was a test. I was impressed. He didn’t complain once. He’s taking to it well although I knew he wasn’t fully convinced. “Let’s give it another few weeks.” The following week we went out for what he believed would be a handy 50km spin. I’d other plans.  We stopped for a coffee in Skerries with 50km in bag. By the end of the day he’d done 80km. And he’d more in the tank. The lads took noticed. All of a sudden he was a definite to finish it. We arrive at start line. Paddy felt his way into the fight. I noticed him get stronger throughout. I was smiling inside. “He has this.” Molls Gap? Not a bother. “Howth is tougher.” He was dialled in. We crossed the line together. “How you getting’ on LAD?” He told me he’d another 20km in legs. I guess what I am trying to saying is, when you think you can’t, you can. It’s that simple. Amazing effort lad.

 

Honour Your Heroes

Beaumont Hospital asked me to take part in Honour Your Heroes Day. I was also presenting a cheque for money raised completing W200. I honoured my surgeon (thyroid). He understood my fight. That day I spoke in front of my family, hospital staff and fellow patients. Cancer, Ring of Kerry & W200 were all unknowns to me but I tackled then with the same mind-set; “Son, you never quit”. When my body was hurting I said to myself “One step at a time, one punch of a needle at a time, one round of chemo at a time.” I thanked my family. They fought every battle with me. My Dad is the perfect fighter. I smiled when my mother told me how he walked to his first chemo treatment. Taking the fight to it. He’s since got the all clear. Like Father, like Son.

I was asked for an interview by Life Magazine; a case study. I wanted to spread the message “Son, you never quit”. That’s how the article began. The fact I now cycled added meaning. That’s where it all began. “When I’m out running or struggling uphill on a bike, I can picture times I was in real agony, and that helps me.” I hope my story can help others believe.

I smiled telling the interviewer I was taking part in Bewley’s charity cycle soon. She saw the excitement, like a kid at Xmas. We were raising money for Irish Hospices. There was 6 of us on the team. I learned a lot from Dylan and the lads. I’d never been part of a cycling team before. We cycled 640km over 4 days and visited hospices along the way. Seeing the great work the people did was amazing and how much they appreciated every Euro raised. The lads laughed as I challenged Dylan up a short hill in distance on back roads to Carrick. I saw it and said to him “show me what you’ve got”. We went at it. Of course he beat me. But the real propose of the race wasn’t to win, it was the test the limits of the human heart. I wore a Prefontaine t-shirt that night. Pretty apt. We worked hard for each other. A great team effort. Great craic. Good people.

Beaumont Hospital Fund have since asked me to help organise their first fundraising cycle to help raise funds for men’s cancer services at the hospital. Proud is an understatement. On 17th June we are cycling from Dublin to Galway (Glide), a 212km ride. The hard work on bike is paying off.

Cycling has given me a lot in a short time. It’s helped me become the man I am today. It’s shown me I am capable of great things. On that hospital bed, not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be able. I got off the bike at the top of the climb that day. I stared back down the hill. “How did I manage that?” I smiled. I saw everywhere I’d been. No one ascends alone.

“As I run, cycle, live life and pain starts to hit. I say to myself, “Son, you never quit.”

Keep her lit.

Fran

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