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John Wall pictured with Charlie Bird after the epic climb up Croagh Patrick.

Clare cancer patient’s emotional climb in Charlie’s footsteps

Champion Chatter Podcast

A Quin-based terminally ill cancer patient has recalled his “amazing emotional experience” after completing an unplanned climb of Croagh Patrick with former RTE journalist, Charlie Bird last Saturday.

It is estimated that more than €2 million has been raised by the “Climb with Charlie” charity treks for Pieta House and Motor Neurone Ireland.

John Wall decided to travel to Westport with a group of friends in a show of solidarity for cancer patients Vicky Phelan and Brian Lynch, but had no plans to climb Croagh Patrick because he felt he wouldn’t be physically able and had no prior training.

However, after travelling to the base of the mountain he climbed about one third of they way up on his own and was going to turn back after two others had gone ahead on the ascent.

“I decided I would get to another peak and go down again. Then I did the flat section in the middle section before arriving at the base of Croagh Patrick. When I looked up it was very steep with very difficult underfoot conditions.

“I felt I would never get this chance again. I didn’t think about how I was going to climb up, I knew I was.”

On the final ascent, he met and chatted about his life with singer Daniel O’Donnell, who provided great encouragement when he was visibly struggling.

He did the last hour of the climb with Ms Phelan’s sister, Lynsey, who like him wasn’t a climber, but they encouraged each other “to put one foot in front of the other, stopping every five to ten minutes for a good rest”.

John pictured with John Kelly and Lynsey Kelly, father and sister of Vicky Phelan.

“Every single step was a struggle,” John recalled. “When I got to the top, it was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. I met my two friends from the choir for cancer group Colette Kearney and Bob Brown and Vicky’s father, John.

“We hugged and cried. When Vicky’s brother, Robbie came over I was even more emotional.

“They couldn’t believe I was at the top, I couldn’t believe I was there. I knew how important this was for Vicky and Brian, who is going through a lot of treatment at the moment and has been through sheer hell.”

He recalled RTE broadcaster, Ryan Tubridy, Daniel O’Donnell and Charlie Bird, who were located near a platform, started talking to each other. Former Labour leader, Alan Kelly and his wife, Regina also completed the climb.

Mr Bird’s arrival to the top was greeted with music from a pipe band.

Then Mr O’Donnell asked on the public speaker if John Wall, who he had met earlier, had made it to the top.

Mr Wall sheepishly put his hand up and Mr O’Donnell recounted the Quin man’s story about his personal cancer journey after seeking his consent to do so in public.

“It was extraordinary humbling moment. There was a round of applause and this added to the whole emotion. I was just wiping the previous tears before I started again. It was an incredible event to be part of. I would love to be back there again. None of this was planned. It will never be forgotten.”

Without any prior notice, Ms Phelan contacted John through face-time and following a chat he told the congregation she was on the phone and asked Daniel O’Donnell if he wanted to speak to her.

Placing the microphone up to Mr Wall’s phone, Mr O’Donnell conducted a live interview with Ms Phelan who praised the inspirational work completed by Mr Bird.

“It was the most beautiful moment that was completely unexpected. You couldn’t set it up. Charlie and Vicky have galvanised the whole country together at a time when we needed it. While Charlie is losing his voice, his ability to communicate is extraordinary.”

“I met Charlie a few times over the weekend. His gestures alone will carry what is an unusual conversation.

“To see thousands of people climbing with Charlie at hundreds of events throughout the country was great.

“The feel good factor and the public awareness that has been created for Pieta House and Motor Neurone Disease is huge.

“The community spirit around Croagh Patrick was something special. The climb attracted all shapes and sizes, all ages, with everyone helping and encouraging each other.”

On the descent, he recalled John Phelan was blown away by the amount of love for his daughter and Mr Bird.

Despite tired bones and body this week, Mr Wall said the whole weekend gave him a great sense of achievement as he was never or isn’t a physically fit person.

He feels Mr Bird now has an even greater voice to raise public awareness about his condition for the benefit of other patients.

“When I watched the clips of when Charlie reached the summit and the flow of emotion. He has spoken about the amount of crying he has done with tears of happiness.

“He must have great pride in what he and thousands of others have managed to achieve around the country for the Climb for Charlie.

“Charlie has used his illness to raise awareness and galvanise people and show what can be achieved. I don’t know where he got the energy from. He seemed to be talking to thousands of people while he was doing the climb, which takes a lot of energy.”

“What he has done will inspire a lot of people who are experiencing difficulty. He has probably done more since he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone disease than when he was healthy and he has done a lot.

“This is a really strong legacy, which he will always be remembered for. The amount of nationwide respect and love for what Charlie and Vicky have done is phenomenal.”

When Mr Wall spoke to his father, who lives in Charlestown, on Friday he told him there was no way he would climb the mountain.

Two days later, he was thrilled to tell him he had climbed the reek, which prompted his father to joke “there is nothing wrong with you”.

“It is a case of mind over matter. I didn’t mind and it didn’t matter, it just happened. I met Vicky on Sunday. She is doing very well all things considered.”

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