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Image / Self / Real-life Stories

Living with Parkinson’s: ‘If you can set yourself a small goal each day – that’s you climbing your own mountain!’


By Sarah Finnan
23rd May 2023
Living with Parkinson’s: ‘If you can set yourself a small goal each day – that’s you climbing your own mountain!’

Taking on the enormous challenge of climbing 28 of Europe’s highest peaks in 28 days, dad of two Ian O'Brien tells us more about what inspired him to set off on this epic adventure. 

Tell us about what inspired this adventure… Did Charlie Bird’s Croagh Patrick climb spark an idea?

Great question. So the idea came to me shortly after I was diagnosed with Early Onset Parkinson’s about five years ago. Following the diagnosis, a good friend insisted I climb Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil. It acted as a metaphor for me. If I can get to the top of Ireland then I can get on top of my diagnosis! The idea then developed into the 28-day European challenge over the following months, but Covid and associated travel restrictions definitely delayed the planning process.

Have you always been very active or is this outside your comfort zone?

Yes, I’ve always been active but not necessarily super fit. I enjoyed running and ran a marathon about 15 years ago, I played 5-a-side soccer and generally enjoy the outdoors.

Climing Mt Olympus in Greece

The first Carrauntoohil climb following my diagnosis was definitely outside my comfort zone, but my love and passion for hiking started that day and grew from there. I now love getting lost in the mountains and being outdoors in nature. I’ve climbed a few mountains in Ireland and abroad in preparation for the challenge such as Mt Olympus in Greece and Ben Nevis in the UK, and I am looking forward to the rest.

What inspired you to want to climb the highest peaks in Europe and the UK?

The challenge itself plus the concept of climbing 28 peaks in 28 days was catchy and hopefully would grab people’s attention while raising awareness of EOPD. To go back to the metaphor of climbing Ireland’s highest mountain to get on top of my diagnosis, I wanted to spread this same message to everyone in Europe living with EOPD in the hopes of inspiring them also. Additionally, in just looking at logistics, Europe seemed the best option; a month away from my wife and two young girls will be hard without trying to go further afield to Everest, for example. Being closer to Ireland has also helped in getting friends and others’ support behind me. Plus, the peaks aren’t too excessive in Europe… although there will be some major challenges with the likes of Mont Blanc and Grossglockner which I am looking forward to.

How long have you trained for this and what did your training plan entail?

I have been hiking for the past five years since I was diagnosed and I completed a number of adventure races which have helped to build up my fitness. About six months ago, I increased my running sessions and the amount of hiking in order to increase my overall fitness. Now every time I hike, I use a weighted vest that is over 10kg which builds up strength and endurance. My weekly training routine typically includes two runs, two gym sessions, two hikes; one long and one max elevation. I joined a training program and log my sessions online which allows me to see my fitness improve and ensures I stay motivated and focused.

Climbing Coumshingaun in Co Waterford

What message do you have for other people living with Parkinson’s?

The message is quite simple; do something! Do something today that you couldn’t do yesterday. Use exercise, get engaged and stay connected with people, as it’s often easy to retreat into yourself mentally. You don’t have to fight Parkinson’s but you can live with it. I am still at a stage in my Parkinson’s that allows me to climb mountains but not everyone is. Some people’s symptoms might be different and others may progress much faster, but if you can set yourself a small goal each day – that’s you climbing your own mountain!

How can people support you on your 28-day climb?

Follow me on social media and on www.eurupian.com to raise awareness for Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease. I really want to highlight the benefits that exercise can have on the many symptoms of Parkinson’s and other illnesses, including your mental well-being.

There is a donation button on the website to raise funds for the charity EOPD.ie which helps young people with Parkinson’s. There are a lot of scenarios that younger people need help with once diagnosed that are quite different to a later diagnosis and EOPD.ie has really helped me with that. I encourage everyone to follow me on my journey and share my story on social media. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and LinkedIn (all linked on the above website).

During the month of June, Ian O’Brien will attempt to climb 28 of the highest points in the UK and each of the EU countries. Hoping to raise an impressive €100,000 for Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease CLG, you can find out more information about his journey and make your own donation here