I broke my back a year ago, now I plan to scale 32 mountains

Clodagh Helen broke her back in a fall from a horse on May 31 last year. By May 31 this year, she aims to have climbed to the summit of the highest peak in each Irish county, she tells CHRIS DUNNE
I broke my back a year ago, now I plan to scale 32 mountains
Clonakilty woman Clodagh Helen in Kilkenny. She is aiming to climb the highest peak in each county by May 31.

JUST ten months ago, Clodagh Helen broke her back when she fell from a horse.

But rather than taking it easy in her recovery, the Clonakilty woman has set herself the challenge of climbing the highest peak in each county on the island of Ireland.

Clodagh has set herself the target of achieving her aim by May 31, and is raising money for Spinal Injuries Ireland along the way.

“Luckily, I didn’t sever my spinal cord when I fell from the horse,” says Clodagh, 25, a trained zoo-keeper, who now lives and works in Clare, where she looks after more than 33 birds of prey at Aillwee Caves and Birds of Prey Centre.

“I am very lucky I wasn’t paralysed after my accident.

“I could have been in a wheel-chair for the rest of my life. Things could have been a lot different.”

Clodagh knows that Spinal Injuries Ireland can make a difference to the lives of people who suffer spinal injuries.

“It offers great support to people with spinal injuries, it is one of those charities you only hear about when you might need their services,” says Clodagh.

“I know that it is the only support and service agency in Ireland for people who have sustained a spinal cord injury and their families. The charity helps support people to engage fully into society.”

Clodagh is fully engaged in achieving her goal, enthused with the skills of resilience and drive to achieve anything she aspires to.

Clonakilty woman Clodagh Helen in Tyrone/Derry. She is aiming to climb the highest peak in each county by May 31.
Clonakilty woman Clodagh Helen in Tyrone/Derry. She is aiming to climb the highest peak in each county by May 31.

“I’m getting there,” she says.

“I take off up the mountains every chance I get.

“Last week, I had a day off and I just took off in the car from work and drove for more than three hours up to Armagh!”

Clodagh is a seasoned climber by now.

“I started off climbing the lowest peaks after I got back on my feet, building up my strength,” she says. “Carrauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland, is last on the list!”

Clodagh recalls the fateful day on May 31 last year when she took a fall from a horse that could have changed her life forever.

“It was a simple fall really,” she recalls.

“I went to jump a fence; the horse had a different idea. He went one way; I went the other.

“When I was thrown off the horse, I hit the ground, and I didn’t think too much of it. I was on the ground for a good while. Then I got up slowly. I was a bit stiff and my ankle hurt.”

She must have been in shock too?

“Yes, I was. But I think the adrenaline kicked in and I felt OK to get back up on my feet and walk. I was concerned about my ankle though, and I called a friend who came and took me home.”

When she got home, Clodagh noticed her back was becoming more painful.

“I couldn’t sit or stand for very long and my ankle had swollen up considerably.”

It was time to take it further.

“I went to A&E and I spent the next eight hours lying there,” says Clodagh.

“The accident happened at 5.30pm and I went to the hospital around 9.30pm. I tried to keep walking around every now and then, trying to find relief from the back pain. Then I lay flat on the floor.” It was a long and worrying night.

“There was nobody at the x-ray department until the next morning; it was so late,” says Clodagh.

“So I had to wait until the next morning to find out more. I spent eight hours lying there.”

What was she thinking?

“I didn’t know what to think,” says Clodagh.

“I had never even broken a bone before.”

But his time, she had.

When the doctors examined Clodagh’s X-rays, she was immediately strapped to a spinal board and they confirmed that her back was in fact, broken. It was a huge shock.

“The good news was that there was no spinal damage,” Clodagh adds.

“They strapped me to a brace across my chest, sides and back.

“And for the next 12 weeks; I could barely move. I couldn’t do anything, even shower, or have a drink of water unaided. The glass or cup was too heavy.

“I was just lying down on the flat of my back.”

After a week in hospital, Clodagh came home to her parents in Clonakilty to recuperate.

Clodagh Helen in Monaghan. She is aiming to climb the highest peak in each county by May 31.
Clodagh Helen in Monaghan. She is aiming to climb the highest peak in each county by May 31.

“I was so weak. I felt very helpless,” says Clodagh. “Mam and Dad did everything for me. I was lying in bed all day.”

The tender, loving care paid off and Clodagh slowly, but surely, began to recover.

“I made a very good recovery, even though I was still in pain for a few months after the brace came off,” she says.

“I began to build up my strength little by little to make my back stronger.”

It was then that she made her decision.

“After the brace came off, I decided to take on the challenge to climb the highest peak in every county, starting with the lowest to the highest, so that I could support Spinal Injuries Ireland, and also to get myself fit and strong once more.”

Clodagh doesn’t believe in hanging about.

“I’m more than halfway there now,” she says.

“I started off climbing the easier, lower peaks. The going was tough at the beginning, but I’m getting stronger all the time.

“As I get stronger, I can take on the higher peaks, climbing for longer.

“I recently completed Knockboy, Cork’s highest mountain, which is near Glengarriff on the Beara Peninsula.”

Clodagh, firmly outside her comfort zone, and pushing all kinds of limits, is forging friendships and partnerships along the way.

“My friends and my sisters often accompany me,” she says. “There are always companions available.

“The company is great and they enjoy the experience too. We bring enough food and water as well as a first-aid kit.”

The climbers are well-prepared for their treks.

“We always travel with waterproof layers in case the weather changes during the day,” adds Clodagh, who, as well as a love of animals, has always had a love of the outdoors too.

“I’ve always been outdoorsy,” she says. “In Clare, I go caving and rock climbing.

“Hiking has always been accessible to me in Clare and in Clonakilty, both beautiful parts of the country.”

Will she get up on horse- back again?

I love horses,” says Clodagh. “I think my parents would be worried if I rode a horse again. But look, I can enjoy other animals. It is something I can live without.”

Now Clodagh is getting on with living her life to the fullest, without any hindrance, while completing a brave personal challenge for a great cause.

“I want to help others who are in a life-changing situation like I faced,” she says.

Is Clodagh ambitious, under-taking her mighty quest within a year?

She smiles.

“I had a lucky escape. I broke my back on May 31 last year.

“My plan is to stand on the summit of Carrauntoohil before May 31 this year.”

Clodagh means to reach her destination.

You can support Clodagh by visiting her Facebook page.

According to the World Health Organisation, spinal injury is one of the most devastating and life-changing injuries that a person can sustain.

However, following medical and rehabilitation intervention and with relevant support, it is not only survivable but an individual can continue to lead the life that they envisaged prior to injury.

Spinal Injuries Ireland, (SII.) email: info@spinalinjuies.ie

Phone: 01 6532180

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