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Everest, Avalanches & Nordic Walking - Tony's Story

Trekking pole years

As a youth I was inspired by the view of Wicklow and Dublin mountains from my bedroom in suburban south Dublin. I wanted to go there. I was also lucky enough to meet generous walking and climbing leaders who were prepared to take me there. This commenced the journey in walking and mountaineering and eventually as a climber on the first successful Irish expedition to Mount Everest in 1993.

Even though my mountaineering activity was interspersed with running it was ultimately connected with becoming a strong walker. I developed a penchant for carrying big rucksacks up big hills 😊.  I have walked and climbed (and run sometimes) in Africa, Asia, Australia/New Zealand and North America. I love Hills and mountains!

These were my trekking pole years, and I did not have a clue how to use them properly. Hunched over and using them as balance and pushing up on them without proper technique until backs of my arms were screaming with lactic acid. How inefficient and in my young years I did not know any different and body was more forgiving. And with youthful ego I even thought I was a better person if I did NOT use poles. 😊

It was still a joy to move quickly over challenging terrain. It takes you to some of the most beautiful places on earth (and even those hidden gems local to where we live in County Clare).

I also learned to Ski both downhill and a little cross country in the Alps .. and even had a go at using downhill skis to traverse the Wicklow Mountains in snow cross country style! I did learn a bit more on how to use Ski Poles and push back to propel forward better. Good character building experience and gave me an insight into potential benefits of poles!

The Avalanche and Broken Body Years!

Things took a bit of a turn in January 2000 when skiing out from winter climbing attempt on an Alpine North Face in the French Alps above Chamonix. I got hit by a big avalanche, suffocated, nearly died, smashed up left leg and major helicopter rescue.

Multiple operations, leg rebuild (twice), skin grafts, Tummy muscle removed and put on my leg as surgical flap (there goes my sit ups & six pack!) and fitness levels dropping off I learned all about different poles! Doctors said I would probably never walk unaided again! This was my red rag to a bull, I would have to prove them wrong. Maybe it was their reverse psychology in action 😊.

This was my medical pole phase! I spent the next 3 years on and off crutches and walking “sticks”. My arms were getting strong again 😊. Not to miss out on my beloved mountains, I set myself a goal of walking up Snowdon in North Wales on crutches.

I made it 3/4 way up in bad weather before body gave up. But the enthusiasm was unthwarted. I would be back!


All that time I became an expert in using walking sticks! When on a mental low, I watched an amputee at gym running up a staircase on a blade . I thought if I am still painfully hobbling on sticks and crutches, I would have myself a blade and at least I could walk again. I persevered for another 6 months and miraculously I started to improve. They had been long years and I was on the mend properly! Given what I know now Activator rehabilitation Poles would have been a great benefit.

Joanne gets all the credit for teaching me the best technique on crutches and walking sticks and keeping the faith with me.

The Return to Fitness, the Ultra Running Years

In 2005, I was walking unaided and was ambitious to get fit again. Around the world trip with Family would include a trip to New Zealand. Hmm… yes winter in New Zealand. It had to be some Skiing. Would the still scarred leg hold out for downhill skiing! I went to my consultant in London for a structural check on leg and he was very bemused. “Given your medical history from smashed leg can you just not relax and do low risk activities?” …. No, I could not. Its in my DNA! He said I could break my leg again and risk was same as anyone else. Good Enough for me!

We spent the world trip doing great walks and yes, skiing nearly every resort in New Zealand, both North and South Island. I learned to use the Ski poles in a particularly forceful protect the leg way! My brain was back in using poles in an optimised way to protect my body!

As that was not good enough, I took up running… just to prove a point as I had been written off before! Then 5k became 10k, became 21k, and the Marathon. Still obsessive approach dominated, and it became multiple marathons then Ultras! This repaired smashed up leg (Fibula never did reconnect) was doing the business now! Ever patient Joanne followed suit with her own ambitious running build up. We were in it together. She kept saying… “just be careful with your leg”. I am an expert on selective hearing and can not remember her saying this! 😊

Discovering Nordic Walking – My Lightbulb moment

I had developed a baby like comfort blanket relationship with my beloved Black Diamond Trekking/running poles. I packed them for the Capetown Ultra in 2017. It was a phenomenal event which climbs and traverses Table Mountain. You can see Robben Island off the coast where Nelson Mandela was held captive for 18 years from top. Made me appreciate how lucky I was to be alive and well and fit again. I did 65km version against challenging time cut-offs and it was mostly walking interspersed with running for me. The Elites mainly run interspersed with walking. I was just inside cut-off by one minute at the 50km marker at Capetown University so tight!).

My good friends the Black Diamond poles helped a lot. I kept noticing other runners/walkers who were storming past me. They were strong and were using poles with straps! They seemed to move faster with less effort and absolutely powered up the hills with elegance. I asked one of them what they were doing. He was an Italian and told me all about Nordic Walking before we stormed off again and left me for dust. That was my lightbulb moment. I promised myself, I would learn all about Nordic Walking when I returned to the UK (where we were living at time), so I could be as efficient as them.

Nordic Walking Journey – The big ultra-test

Back in Oxford we learned all about Nordic Walking on a training course with Kate at Dreaming Spires Nordic Walking in Oxford. It was amazing, there were people from all walks of life and some with challenging physical and neurological conditions and then Joanne and I who were reasonably fit. We bought LEKI Nordic Walking poles and then used them for all our walking. It was great. Like having a turbo boost to our walking and posture and whole-body strength was improving.

In meantime I had done lots of new Ultras with my Nordic Walking LEKI poles and was really enjoying newly found skills. The body was not getting younger and with my history, Nordic Walking and running skills helped immensely. I earned enough race points to enter the Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc CCC race which is 100 km and nearly 7000m of ascent across the alps around Chamonix in 2018. I was returning to place of my near nemesis. It was full circle from my avalanche experience which nearly killed me in year 2000 to running in same mountains area on UTMB CCC, recovered and fit again after a long journey. It was to prove that when one is written off and down that one can persevere and arise from the ashes and get back on track again. My journey may be on the extreme sport end of this but it is applicable to any life challenge which we all have to deal with.

I completed the CCC race with one second to spare on the cut-off. That was enough to be a finisher 😊

Nordic Walking – Sharing the love - Instructor phase

We moved back (again) to Ireland. Having worked in IT as a contract programme Manager for many years in parallel with all the mad stuff, I reflected on how to move to a different career. Joanne was just retiring as a Nurse after 40 years and had learned to be a Nordic Walking instructor with Nordic Walking UK and with Urban Poling in Canada on Activator Rehabilitation poles. She set up Nordic Fitness Ireland where a wonderful community of Nordic Walkers have emerged.

I thought maybe this could start a transition for me also from corporate land. So, I also trained as a Nordic walking instructor with British Nordic Walking (Part of INWA – International Nordic Walking Federation). I could help Joanne with Nordic Fitness Ireland and we would travel journey together and see where it takes us.

I love the teaching and instruction and one aspect I particularly enjoy is taking our lovely customers from the start of their fitness walking journey to achieving things they would never have thought feasible. Breaking down the mental barriers is a key as breaking down the physical ones. I know!

Pandemic has slowed things for me personally race wise, but I am looking forward to getting back again in the mountains Nordic Walking and running. That feeling of Flow and powering along and uphill is so good. I want to share it with many more people, whether mountain running, Ultras, or walks in the park. It’s all about the people when it boils down to it. Never give up. 😊

Achievements to Date

Selection of Tony’s Achievements:

2022 – Burren Half Marathon

2019 – Lakes Scafell Sky Race, Snowdon Sky Race, Seven sisters Sky Race, Dublin Marathon, Burren Marathon, Participant in Oman by UTMB Ultra completing 90k.

2018 – Endurance life Gower Marathon, Burren Marathon, Snowdon Marathon,

2017 – UTMB CCC, Dublin Marathon. Blenheim Triathlon, Great South Run, Oxford Half Marathon, Cardiff Half Marathon, Milton Keynes Marathon, Burren Marathon, Broadway trail Marathon, Brecon Ultra, Equinox 24 100k , Cotswold Classic 10 miles, 3 Spires Half Marathon, Dark Peak Trail, St Alban’s Half Marathon, The Grizzly

2016 – Cape Town Ultra, Berlin Marathon, Gaelforce West, Endurance life Dorset Ultra Marathon, Snowdonia V3K Ultra Marathon.

2015 – Chicago Marathon, Toronto Marathon, Paris Marathon, Man V Horse, Otmoor Challenge Half Marathon, Endurance Life Half Marathon Dorset

2014 – London Marathon, Dublin Marathon, Gael Force West, Otmoor Challenge Half Marathon, Connemara Adventure Challenge, Milton Keynes Half,

2013 – First 10K Blenheim

Numerous 5K Events including over 100 parkruns
Numerous 10k Events