Offaly man takes on incredible rowing challenge for cancer charity

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In a few weeks, Birr man Fionn O Cearbhaill will be taking on the Noman Challenge – an extreme 200-mile rowing race across the Mediterranean, in an effort to raise much-needed funds and awareness for human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancer.

Fionn was Gym Manager at Birr Leisure Center and currently trains hard on the rowing machine in the Leisure Center gym six days a week.

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He is no stranger to extreme challenges. A few years ago, he climbed the four highest peaks in Ireland’s four provinces in 30 hours. Last year he climbed Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil, three times in one day. Both climbing activities were done to raise money for St. Vincent de Paul.

A few months ago, Fionn thought he would give rowing a try and signed up for the Mediterranean Challenge. He has been training since January and feels quite confident, while at the same time being well aware of the great challenge of the pursuit.

“We will start on July 19 in the port of Barcelona. The journey across the Mediterranean will take two and a half to three days, weather permitting – it will likely remain favorable at that time of year. I am in a crew of four on a 24/7 schedule system of two hours on, two hours off, rowing and sleeping. Besides the physical challenge for your muscles, the other challenges are the heat, sun exposure, are you going to get along with the other crew members? I will never have met the other crew members before.”

The challenge is organized by Noman, who advocates universal vaccination against HPV cancers. 90,000 people in Europe currently suffer from HPV cancer. These diseases could have been prevented if the people had been vaccinated beforehand.

A family member of Fionn died of HPV last year. “The HPV virus has taken far too many lives,” he noted, “and has had a devastating effect on so many families, both in Ireland and around the world. I think it will be difficult to find someone who isn’t.” personally affected by cancer and its devastating effects.”

HPV is the cause of 5% of all cancers (cervical, penile, anal, vaginal, vulval and head and neck cancers) and unfortunately the majority of people will experience it at some point in their lives.

“The good news,” says a press release from Noman, “is that the HPV vaccine is a cancer prevention vaccine and offers the greatest opportunity we’ve had in decades to prevent cancer. It’s time to fight back!”

“For me,” continues Fionn, “experiencing outdoor adventures, whether in the mountains or in this case the ocean, adds an extra layer of excitement to life. I love a good challenge and it’s doubly rewarding when it’s all in the name of a good cause.
“I have never rowed or spent time at sea before. Being off the sea in Offaly meant growing up very little exposure to the sea. When I heard about the Ocean Rowing Challenge, it really appealed to me to do something different.

“The four other teammates I row with are from the UK. They have had some training days in the Noman boat in Southampton but the Covid situation prevented me from traveling. So I will meet them at the starting line in Barcelona on July 19th so that I have about two hours before the race to learn how to operate an ocean rowboat! Our boat will be one of six boats with a total of 25 participants.

“The plan is to row non-stop until we reach Ibiza. In the two hour rest periods we eat high calorie meals and sleep in a cramped compartment at the end of the boat that fits about two people. We will bring a special device to convert seawater into drinking water. If we burn 8,000 calories a day, we’ll be eating dried packaged foods that I suspect won’t quite be Michelin starred, but should hopefully give us the fuel we need.

“In the unlikely event of excessive waves and the boat capsizing, it is designed to repair itself, but hopefully we won’t go there.”
It is mandatory that all rowers complete navigation, sea survival, radio communication and first aid courses prior to the emergency race. The training, flights, equipment and costs are all covered by each participant, so 100% of the money raised goes directly to charity. Each participant is asked to raise €10,000 for charity, and raising the money can be a major challenge in itself.

“The sweltering heat,” says a Noman press release, “sleep deprivation, seasickness and unpleasant living conditions will be extremely demanding both mentally and physically, and the effort required to cross will undoubtedly result in a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. .” One of Noman’s tactics to raise awareness about the human papilloma virus and campaign for universal HPV vaccination is to challenge participants to extreme endurance races around the world. “A world,” says Noman, “where every country vaccinates both boys and girls against HPV would eradicate 5% of all cancers, eliminating so much unnecessary pain, suffering and grievance in the world we live in today.”

To follow the race there will be live tracking of the positions of the boats on the Noman Website; and using a special satellite phone, Fionn hopes to post some updates to his personal social media account.

If you would like to contribute to this outstanding cause you can do so via the gofundme page which you can find by googling – rowing in the Mediterranean for cancer.

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