Long Covid sufferer from Northern Ireland completes 66-mile 2022 Etape Loch Ness in the Highlands with oxygen cylinders on his back
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A 63-year-old long Covid sufferer from Northern Ireland has successfully completed the 2022 Etape Loch Ness with the help of oxygen cylinders on his back.
Gerard McLarnon, who is from Randalstown in County Antrim, faced a long battle with Covid-19 which saw him hospitalised for 70 days – 57 of which were spent in ITU and 40 days on a ventilator.
He was in hospital longer than most patients and the condition left him having to learn how to walk, talk and swallow once again.
Completing the Etape Loch Ness this weekend was an immense achievement not just for him but also for the Creggan Wheelers, the cycle club in Randalstown that has played such a big part in his recovery.
Speaking about completing the 66-mile cycle sportive 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.”
His younger brothers John and Dominic joined him for the Etape and they were part of the team of 14 from the Creggan Wheelers. John McLarnon said: “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 today is absolutely incredible.”
Gerard completed the 66-mile cycle, which starts and finishes in Inverness and takes riders along the iconic Loch Ness, in 06:09:15. The event organisers arranged for him to have regular oxygen along the route which he carried on his back.
Gerard explained: “Although I am pretty much back to normal, I do still need oxygen for intense physical activity like cycling. I am grateful to the organisers for assisting me and I am indebted to and proud of my fellow Creggan Wheelers who stuck by me today, 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, a father of three and grandfather of four, returns home to his beloved wife Kathleen. When asked about his next challenge, he said: “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.”