A Co Antrim man, who suffers from Long Covid, has just finished an epic 66-mile cycle in Scotland – complete with oxygen cylinders on his back.
Gerard McLarnon, 63, from Randalstown, took on the 2022 Etape Loch Ness after a long battle with Covid-19, which saw him hospitalized for 70 days, 57 of which were spent in ICU and 40 on a ventilator.
It left him having to learn how to walk, talk and swallow again.
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Gerard was in hospital longer than most patients admitted with Covid in Northern Ireland during the pandemic.
Completing the Etape Loch Ness was an immense achievement not just for Gerard but also for the Creggan Wheelers, the cycle club in Randalstown that has played such a big part in his recovery.
Gerard said: “This is a really emotional day for me. I had planned to do the Etape Loch Ness along with my fellow riders in Creggan Wheelers back in 2020 and had been training for it. Then I was admitted to hospital on March 31 where I was to remain for 70 days.
“I firmly believe that training for the Etape in 2020 saved my life. Had I not had that level of fitness to fight Covid, it would have been a different story. “
Gerard completed the 66-mile cycle, which starts and finishes in Inverness and takes riders along the iconic Loch Ness, at 06:09:15.
The event organizers arranged for him to have regular oxygen along the route, which he carried on his back.
“Although I am pretty much back to normal, I still need oxygen for intense physical activity like cycling,” he explained.
“I am grateful to the organizers for assisting me and I am indebted to and proud of my fellow Creggan Wheelers who stuck by me, as they have over the last two years.
“We set out together and we finished together. It is this team spirit and a healthy dose of sheer bloody mindedness that has got me through! ”
Gerard’s younger brothers John and Dominic joined him for the Etape, part of the team of 14 from the Creggan Wheelers.
“There were many times when Gerard was in hospital in Belfast that we were told he wasn’t going to make it, so to see him complete the Etape is absolutely incredible,” John said.
The father-of-three and grandfather-of-four is now returning home to his beloved wife Kathleen.
“This was the big one for me and it shows how far I have come. The final stage of recovery will be losing the oxygen supply – that is my next goal, but I know I have to be patient, ”Gerard said.
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