Diabetes won’t stop me climbing 5,896m high mountain

A father of four diagnosed with diabetes will climb Kilimanjaro this month for Diabetes Ireland, writes Chris Dunne
Diabetes won’t stop me climbing 5,896m high mountain
Senan Power.

SENAN Power has everything going for him. He’s got a successful family business that he runs with his brother, he’s got a loving wife, Diane, and they’ve got four healthy children, Emily, Danielle, Louie and Karol.

The Ballincollig man has also got something he never thought he’d ever have. He has Type 2 diabetes.

“I wasn’t a typical person who gets diabetes,” he says. “My profile just didn’t fit for it.”

Senan was diagnosed with the condition at the age of 28. Apart from learning to live with it, he has learned to accept it. And he has learned to own it.

“Diabetes doesn’t control me,” says Senan. “I control it. The key is about being educated about diabetes so that you can accept it.

He admits it took a while to get his head around it.

“I was in denial at first. Now I control it and I own it. The Cork Diabetes Centre is a massive support to people who have diabetes.

Senan will take part in a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro for Diabetes Ireland, on September 24. It is just as well that he is in peak condition now.

“I am the fittest that I have ever been,” says Senan, as we chat over a cup of coffee.

“I could lift you over my shoulder right now without any effort at all if I wanted to!

“I know that I will look back some day and realise that this is the fittest I’ve ever been.”

When Senan was 28 years old, he didn’t see diabetes being part of his future. He didn’t tick any of the boxes. He wasn’t over 50, he wasn’t overweight and nobody in his family had the condition. His lifestyle was moderate.

Senan was looking forward a bright, happy future with Diane.

“We were planning to buy our first house,” says Senan.

He didn’t plan on being knocked for six when he visited the doctor for a routine medical check-up.

“The doctor said my sugar levels were high. I asked him; ‘what does that mean?’ He said; ‘you could be diabetic’.

“I was completely ignorant. I was gobsmacked. I wasn’t 25 stone. I am the same weight now as I was then. I didn’t live on chips and burgers. I was healthy.”

The Power family from Ballincollig. Diane and kids, Emily Danielle, Louie and Karol, who will be cheering on their dad as he undertakes the mammoth climb.
The Power family from Ballincollig. Diane and kids, Emily Danielle, Louie and Karol, who will be cheering on their dad as he undertakes the mammoth climb.

Further blood tests from his GP confirmed Senan’s diagnosis. He was then referred to a specialist.

“Mr O’Halloran told me it was inevitable that I would be on insulin. I didn’t want to be dependent on insulin.”

Nor did he want to remain ignorant of the condition.

“I did the Bergers course run by the Diabetes Centre in Brú Columbanus, Wilton,” says Senan.

“It informed me how to look after my diabetes and my health, and the workshop gave me up-to-date information on the management of the condition.

“Yes, I had difficulty accepting that I had diabetes; I knew in my head I had to accept it.”

Senan wasn’t going to let his diabetes define him. He adopted a fighting attitude.

“I’m that soldier to beat it,” he says.

“There are a lot of resources out there. I tapped into mine.

“Over time, I started to control it, rather than it controlling me. Diane was my rock.”

He didn’t envisage climbing the highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, which is 5,895 metres high and has three volcanic cones.

Senan laughs.

“That came later,” he says.

“I joined CrossFit in Ballincollig. I decided to change my lifestyle to become even fitter. CrossFit touches on different aspects of fitness, involving all Olympic sports. It is not at all monotonous and no work-out is the same. I love it. I go three times a week and it really helps me cardio-wise and makes my legs stronger.

“On a Saturday I do a run, 15 wall balls, where you catch the ball and squat, 50 skips, all by five. The air bike is great to burn up calories. I follow that with 15 push-ups and 15 squats, all by five.”

Where does Senan get the time to train, running a business and with four lively children?

“I get up at 5am,” he says ruefully. “But it is great. I have a graph detailing how my sugar levels perform before a workout, during, and after. The benefits are massive.”

The Diabetes Centre in Mary Street, Cork city, is of massive benefit too.

“The clinic is a monster!” says Senan. “It is a one-stop shop for valuable information and for regular eye and foot check-ups. Everybody who has diabetes should avail of the facilities there. Education is the key.”

While Senan’s fitness levels were reaching new heights, he suffered another challenge when he contracted psoriasis, an irritating skin condition affecting the knees, elbows, and scalp.

“That can result in psoriatic arthritis,” says Senan. “This bucko got it. I was dealt a sh***y card health-wise.”

While Senan had a bit of a setback, he was still in the driving seat.

“I heard about the trek to Kilimanjaro in aid of diabetes,” says Senan.

“I decided, I must explore this. It drove me on and it gave me a goal to create good.”

Taking on the mighty Kilimanjaro meant mighty commitment. Senan had good backing.

“Diane told me to go for it. It’ll be good for you,” she said.

There weren’t many takers to go with him!

“At Christmas I asked my extended family, sibblings and cousins, would anybody like to come with me when we talked about the trek,” says Senan. “Nobody took me up on the offer!”

But Senan had another ally.

“Peter, who is married to Laura, Diane’s sister, said; you know what? I’ll come!”

What brought this on?

“It’s not something I’d be planning to do,” says Peter Hennessy, who is head chef at the Carrigaline Court Hotel.

“But often, on day trips to Killarney I’d look at the beautiful mountains and think, ‘I’d love to climb up one of them’.”

And he has.

“When Peter and I climbed Carrantuohill as part of our training, he went up and down the mountain like a Duracell bunny!” says Senan.

“He struggled a bit coming down the mountain though!”

It didn’t deter him.

“I never attempted climbing a mountain before,” says Peter. “I was more reserved and I was afraid in case I’d fail.”

There ain’t no mountain high enough now for Peter.

The duo have conquered Carrantuohill, Mount Brandon, and the Dublin mountains.

“It is probably not something I thought of doing, climbing Kilimanjaro,” says Peter.

“It’ll be a huge achievement for Senan and for me to tag along. We get on well. We have a similar sense of humour.”

They have a similar commitment to their common goal.

“Diabetes is more prevalent than I thought,” says Peter, who is a father of three.

“I come across people with diabetes all the time in my job. Awareness of the disease is important, especially regarding a good, balanced diet.”

Is Peter ready to scale Kilimanjaro?

“I have a manageable regime,” says Peter. “I’m not at it hammer and tongs. I do a bit of running and run on the treadmill too, about 20k a week. I’m fit enough with good lung capacity.”

So he’s good to go?

“Fingers crossed,” says Peter.

There are 17 people from Ireland going on the trip.

“Nine of us have diabetes,” says Senan. “Including the team doctor. Each of us had to raise €5,200. I have raised €8,000 due to the generosity of people. The biggest cost is the proper gear. Once I get there, I will go for it.”

Senan has no fear of what the mighty Kilimanjaro might have in store for himself and Peter.

“I’m not afraid of anything,” says Senan. “My only fear is that I’ll miss my kids. I do know that breaking routine while climbing might affect me.

“Mr O’Halloran says the best diabetes patients are prisoners because of their regimental regime, eating their meals regularly and taking their exercise routinely.

“Having no set routine reacts with sugar levels. Our medical team will be on hand for any issues that may arise. We’ll meet every day to discuss how we feel.”

There is safety in numbers.

“There are three guides assigned to each person,” says Senan.

“The trek, numbering 80 people altogether, is very well organised.

“If there are any tell-tale signs that all is not well, experiencing nausea, for instance, the guides send us back down the hill.”

Senan is confident that he will reach the summit. Diabetes won’t restrict him in his gigantic effort.

“I can climb Kilimanjaro,” says Senan. Then he will own it. “I can do anything I want. The ‘I can’ts’ should be about ‘I can.’”

To donate to Senan’s trek, see his Everyday Hero Page


The Diabetes Cork Care Centre is a walk-in service where people can avail of services including eye screening.

There is also a podiatrist on site who will provide a shoe-fitting service at a reasonable cost, which is very important for people with diabetes.

One in 10 people aged over 45 could have diabetes by 2020 according to research by the Institute of Public Health Ireland.

It predicts that by 2020 the number of people over 45 with both diagnosed and undiagnosed type 2 diabetes is expected to rise to more than 175,000.

There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be managed.

Balancing the carbohydrates, (sugars and starches), you eat, with physical activity and medicine (if prescribed), can keep your blood glucose in a healthy range.

Self-management means you keep track of your blood glucose and take an active part in the treatment of your diabetes. This is important, as many things you do in your daily life affect your blood glucose.

The Diabetes Cork Care Centre is located at Enterprise Centre, 36, Mary Street, Cork city, Phone: 021-4274229m, or you can email corkcarecentre@diabetes.ie The Helpline is 1850 909 909.

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