Just over 14 years ago my life changed. At the end of September 2005 my wife gave birth to our first son, Liam. Things however did not go well from the first few seconds of his life. Liam, showing a glimmer of his impatience decided to take a breath too early, and instead of taking a lung of air he took a lung of meconium – the sticky gunk in which he had been living for the previous 40 weeks. Such was the seriousness of the condition that he had to be taken away immediately, had his lungs hoovered out and transported to neonatal intensive care where he would stay for the next 11 days. On the first night of his life Liam had several fits and dropped his oxygen saturation significantly and we were hurried into a private conversation with the consultant to say that there was a chance he wouldn’t make it through the night if this carried on. He survived. We were then told that it was highly likely there would be some brain issues and that a CT scan and EEG would be required that would show the level of brain damage. There wasn’t any. Liam has always defied convention. At birth he weighed just under 10 pounds, was 60cm in length and two of his front teeth were pretty much through. From day 1 his height for age was off the charts, where it has remained for the past 14 years. You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but Liam has a disability which was diagnosed very early in life. Liam suffers from DCD – Developmental Coordination Disorder an impairment in the learning and coordination of motor skills. Liam still struggles to use a knife and fork, and he still makes me sweat every time he picks up something sharp. However, in his usual defiance of convention he has become one of the countries top juvenile athletes, in perhaps one of the most technically demanding disciplines in terms of coordination and balance – throwing, and in particular, shot put. However this is not the place or time to discuss his prowess in the discipline, if you scan through my Facebook page you will see the stories and woes of competition. What needs to be discussed is another aspect of Liam – my training partner.
A life time ago I was a sprinter, and a quite useful one at that. I had ambitions of representing my country, but it didn’t happen for a number of reasons. When that dream died I got heavy, and found myself in 2005 seriously out of shape. When Liam was born I decided to raise funds for the neonatal unit at the hospital that cared for him and I hatched a plan called ‘Going the Extra Mile’ where I would train and run 101 miles in competitive road races, raising sponsorship along the way. The final act of the 101 mile challenge was running the Cork Marathon which I did in 2007, clocking a time of 6h10m56s – finishing in 1237th position. This was a real case of the wheels coming off as I was in 4 hour shape. Why I mention this is that on the morning of the race I weighed 14st 3lb. I have never got my weight as low as that since, and I only made it that low after suffering a bout of gastroenteritis 3 days before the race. I carried on road racing for a couple of years afterwards, never achieving the sorts of times I did in 2006/2007 and the weight piled on.
When I started my weight loss journey five months ago I couldn’t run more than 100m before having to stop and get my breath. I couldn’t train with my own athletes, and more importantly I couldn’t train with my own little elite, Liam. I would often read stories of top athletes that spent formative years running with parents and I was missing out on that, and I wanted to do something about it. When I started running again, albeit extremely slowly, Liam would always want the details of each run, how far did I go, what was the session, what was the pace. It was the questioning I would give athletes I coach, looking for the feedback. When I got a bit more comfortable with being back running, Liam would come to the gym with me, and this itself was a change, and a pleasant one. There is nothing more lonely than going to the gym on your own, and now I had someone to accompany me. Gym sessions with Liam got to be more frequent, and I reciprocated by taking part in Liams strength and conditioning sessions – even if it almost killed me. It was at this point when I came to realise that Liam is way way way way fitter and stronger than I am – and he is just a kid. I thought that might bruise my ego, but not at all, it gave me a target. I now had a training buddy, and a sparring partner in the gym.
One night in August Liam and myself found ourselves down at a training session for athletes competing in Community Games. Whilst we were waiting for them to finish their warm up we decided to get a few laps of the track in. Off we went, Pop and Pup running together, training together. Liam is quick, can run a sub-20 minute 5K. He pushed me on that session, which is what I wanted. He got me running at approx 20min 5K pace, and I held my own for as long as I could. He gave me encouragement, the same encouragement I gave him when he was a fledgling juvenile athlete and suddenly the roles were reversed. Later on that month when on holiday in Holland the final piece of the bonding jigsaw fell into place, we went for a run together. We planned the route together, we prepared together and eventually we hit the road together and for 5K we kept a steady pace together. I was still quite early in my return to running programme and Liam was patient and encouraging, helping me through the tough parts and not geting bored with his ‘aul fella’ and running off into the distance. I couldn’t have got through that run without him, although it did take me a couple of days to recover. Liam just got a promotion (or maybe it was me that got the promotion) – training partner.
Liam stands at just a touch over 6 foot 2, he weighs in a shade under 80kg and he looks like a person far advanced than his 14 years and there are times when I forget that. I have always probably treated him in ways not appropriate for a child, both in his athletic life and in our family life, but he seems fairly resilient and I know a few good psychologists if I have really screwed things up. Recently however, Liam made the final transition from boy to man and a very simple act showed that there may well be just 14 years on the clock, but in his head is a level of maturity that even I didn’t expect. As I mentioned in my previous posting, I recently ran cross country, and it was tough. I also mentioned that Liam ran with me, but that wasn’t the full story.
On cross country day Liam ran the 6km race with the big boys, he nearly collapsed across the line and his feet were in tatters. Inexperience had led him to put on a pair of normal socks and he had blisters on his blisters, and most had burst – he was in pain. As I lined up for my race Liam appeared by the side of me, he said he would run with me and he was determined to do so. I tried to let him know that I would be OK, and that he had just run hard and should just rest, but he was having none of it. However, within 50 metres Liam had to hobble out, the blisters were way too much for him. I struggled through the first 500m and when it was obvious I was plum last Liam again jumped in, but this time he was wearing just socks. I again tried to dissuade him, but no, he really was going to do this. So for the next 1700m, Liam ran by the side of me, in bad pain from the blisters and the 6km run, but for him this was important, he wanted to help me get around. If I am being honest I probably would have pulled out if it wasn’t for him running by the side of me, his constant chatter dragging me around the course. Even with just 100m to go he managed to pick up the pace and help push me on and over the line in a ‘sprint finish’. This time I collapsed. He wasn’t just my son that day, he was my comrade in arms – leave no man behind. In that 13 minutes I watched my son become a man, and those tears in my eyes at the finish line weren’t from the effort of running.