Waterford native Eoghan Quinn was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of four, and found out he also had coeliac disease just nine months later. Now aged 21 and a student in Glasgow, Eoghan refuses to let his health affect his highly active lifestyle, a lifestyle so active that he is currently in the midst of a 4,000 mile cycle to the Gaza strip in the hope of raising money for medical aid in Palestine.
Along with his brother Gearóid, Eoghan dreamt up the idea of cycling to Palestine last September when he became aware that medical aid and supplies were being restricted from reaching the civilian population in Gaza. Imagining what life could be like for him if he had been born in a different part of the world, Eoghan decided to do something about it.
“I started to put myself, as someone who has diabetes, in the position of those who weren’t getting medical supplies, which had ceased to get into the country. If I had diabetes out there, I wouldn’t actually live. Without medical supplies, I’d have no possibility of living. That’s how I started thinking about it, by putting myself in their position,” Eoghan said.
At first, Eoghan and Gearóid thought they might organise sending a van with medical supplies to Palestine, but then decided they’d rather do something more challenging, ‘with a human touch to it’. When a number of their friends were enthusiastic about joining the cycle, the ball started rolling.
“Everything started to fall into place. Over Christmas the attacks in Gaza happened so that made it even more relevant. Hospitals and children’s schools were being destroyed. When I spread the idea around to my friends they were all for it,” Eoghan explained.
Pathways to Palestine
The team of six, which includes Eoghan, Gearóid, their friends Ronan Sheehan, Patrick McCauley, John Maher and John Lyttle, left Glasgow on May 28. Five are cycling and John Lyttle is driving in a back up vehicle, which will be donated as an ambulance at the end of the trip. After getting the ferry to Larne in Northern Ireland, they reached Galway by May 31. They then cycled to Rosslare and got the ferry to France, where they are now. With a total of 14 countries to travel through, they hope to reach Gaza in 40 days.
“We aim to get up early in the morning and do a lot of cycling then, because it’ll be summer and we want to avoid the intense heat if we can. We’ll be cycling for seven hours a day, so we’ll be clocking up about 100 miles everyday. We’re constantly training at the moment,” Eoghan told Irishhealth.com in the weeks before the trip.
“This morning I cycled 60 miles, and when I go home this evening I’ll do another two hours, which should get me up to about 79 miles. So we’re building ourselves up constantly. We’re going to take a minimum of one day off every week. You need that, you couldn’t keep going otherwise,” he said.
The ‘Pathways to Palestine’ team, all of whom are Irish and in college in Scotland, England and Ireland, are both camping and staying in budget hostels throughout their trip. The back-up van contains their food, cooking utensils, camping gear, and medical supplies for Eoghan, who is the only member of the team with diabetes.
Dealing with diabetes
Eoghan has been involved in high intensity sports since the age of 12, but always thought that he couldn’t take it to the level he wanted because of his diabetes. In spite of this, he is now confident that as long as he looks after himself, there is no reason why he can’t do the trip.
People like Sir Steven Redgrave, a British rower who has diabetes and won five Olympic gold medals, have been a real inspiration for Eoghan.
“Steven Redgrave was a really big influence in my life. Growing up, and doing exercise and sport, he was a major inspiration because he could actually do it. If he could do it, I could do it. That was exactly what I thought in my head.
“I always had an interest in cycling, and I read the Lance Armstrong books, but I always thought in the back of my mind that I couldn’t do that because I have diabetes. But you see him achieving so much, he’s a gold medal winner, and he’s overcome major health difficulties. It’s an inspiration and something to look up to,” he said.
Now, Eoghan feels as though it’s his time to put himself forward and prove to the next generation that people with diabetes can do high intensity and competitive sports.
“My diabetes will be impacting a lot but I’m dealing with it on a day-to-day basis. Every day is a learning curve in terms of insulin and food intake, but I have it down to a tee at the moment.
“Cooking and eating will be really important for this, and we have to get used to eating a lot of carbohydrates every day. I will be bringing stock-loads of gluten-free bread with me!
“I’m a perfectionist about everything and I’m a perfectionist especially about my health, but when I went to my doctor about this he couldn’t get over how well my diabetes and health was being looked after. He said if he could ever nominate someone who he knew could do this, it’d be me - it was great to get such encouragement,” Eoghan said.
Eoghan believes that cycling is a great sport for people with diabetes, because it doesn’t involve any physical impact and it’s easier on your body than a lot of other sports.
“Diabetes really hasn’t stopped me from doing what I want to do. If I see something I want to do, I’ll adapt my diabetes around it. Or I’ll adapt it around my diabetes,” he explained.
The team are constantly fundraising for the trip, and trying to arrange badly-needed sponsorship. They are aiming to get extensive media coverage in every country they travel through, and have arranged to meet up with other local cycling clubs along the way. A number of politicians and other influential people have expressed an interest in meeting up with them, and the team have also received support from both the Scottish Parliament and Dáil Eireann.
All funds donated will go to Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), who Eoghan says have a proven track record in targeting aid in a transparent way. The team are hoping to cover their own expenses through sponsorship, so that all funds donated by the public will go directly to MAP.
“Figures from the World Health Organization indicate that 19% of necessary medicines were lacking, primarily for those needed in surgery and emergency cases. Almost one-third of vital medical equipment is also wanting, and there is a grave shortage of disposable items, such as bandages, syringes and plasters for casts, items which specifically affect people with diabetes,” Eoghan said.
It was figures like these that initially led Eoghan and his brother to start organising the fundraising cycle, and make a real difference to those affected by circumstances outside their control.
“It’ll be interesting, I’m really looking forward to it. We do need a bit more support, but we’re very optimistic that the trip will be a success.”
For more information, or to donate or sponsor part of the group’s 4000-mile cycle, see www.pathwaystopalestine.com.
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