DRIFTING in and out of consciousness, John Cahill couldn’t let go of his dream. His bicycle lay mangled in a Killaloe ditch, an increasing crowd surrounded the Cappa man and the pain seared through his body. Still his scrambled thoughts zoned in on London.
“I was lying on the road for about 20 minutes waiting for the ambulance to come,” the An Post employee recalled on Wednesday more than a year after his accident at a triathlon in Killaloe.
“The first thing I did was move my fingers and toes. Once I could do that I knew then that one day I’d get back on the bike. Even when I was lying there the first thing that went through my head was London and would I be able to make it.”
John is just back from the World Triathlon Championships in London, so yes, he definitely made it. Along with David Brew, also from Cappa, John represented the West Clare Triathlon Club in the British capital. He finished 93rd in the event which included a 750m swim, 40km cycle, largely around Hyde Park and a 10km run. John was placed fifth best of all the Irish competitors, while David Brew also performed admirably, finishing 98th overall in London.
Thirteen months ago John Cahill’s hopes of taking part in London were threadbare. Hitting the road at speed in Killaloe fractured his back in two places. Not exactly conducive to a long term triathlon career.
“I couldn’t lie down for a month. I was in an orthopaedic chair for four weeks. I had to stay sitting up the whole time. I had ligament damage in my neck as well. I couldn’t move my neck either for a month. I was in a back brace for four months. What saved me was I was fit before it happened. I didn’t need any operation. All I needed was physio,” John reflected.
Even though taking part in a triathlon left him badly injured and off work for nearly five months, the lure of London motivated John.
“It kept me going. I had qualified for the world championships before that. I didn’t even have to do that race to qualify but it was the last race and I said I might as well do it. I came back to work just before Christmas. I had the back brace still on so I was only doing a few hours a day. Once I got rid of the back brace, I nearly went on the bike straight away,” he laughed.
John had to learn how to walk properly following the accident. His 73 year old father Martin walked with him regularly in Cappa. One day a neighbour spotted them and assumed that John was helping his father.
“She was driving one day and she turned to her daughter and said ‘isn’t that great to see John taking his Dad out for a walk?’ I could laugh about it when she came in to the post office and said it. I was taking baby steps. I was falling over and it looked as if I was holding him up but it was the other way around,” John smiled.
He trains with the West Clare Tri Club and while John has since developed a taste for triathlon, when he started three years ago his weakest leg was the swim. That’s because he hadn’t a stroke to his name.
“For my first triathlon I had to get Kevin Shalloo’s wife, Johanna, to do the swim for me. I was standing waiting for her to come from the swim and I said ‘do you know what, I’m going to have to learn to swim.” Tutored by Mags Talty he did just that.
He found the cycling part somewhat easier. “Once a week I normally go back to Loop Head. It’s a three hour cycle. I try to do that on a Sunday. Other than that we go out by Kilmurry McMahon. Neither myself or David have coaches. We coach ourselves.”
John was accompanied to London by his wife Geraldine and their daughter Emma (13), who is a regular at her fathers triathlon events. Not that he expects Emma to take up triathlon any time soon.
“She’d be more of a walker than a runner,” John joked.
The West Clare Triathlon Club was founded in November 2011 and currently has 38 members. This year the club organised two races, the West Clare Duathlon (held in March in Doonbeg) and the sell-out ‘Up the Creek’ Sprint Triathlon, held last June in Kilrush. For more information on the club see www.westclaretri.com