MOUNTAIN HIGH Michael Quinn’s new-found passion for hiking and mountaineering helps keep him mentally healthy.
Ahead of hiking 1,000k for charity, Michael Quinn speaks about the year he spent facing his demons
As he sips slowly on his glass of water, Michael Quinn admits that he has been on a tough journey for the last 18 months or so, but it’s been a journey he feels he had no option but to take.
“I had a great life going around the world. I had a great social life, but it was all pretty much a lie. I had problems that I wasn’t dealing with,” he told The Mayo News in advance of a 1,000km hike along the Ireland Way trail which he is undertaking for two charities, The Kevin Bell Repatriation Fund and Jigsaw.
A native of Aughagower in Westport, the 31 year old spent the later part of his 20s travelling around the world teaching English as a foreign language, and he felt everything was going fine.
All that changed, however, while he was working in Italy in late 2016. He suffers from gout, and the condition flared up when he injured his foot while exercising. It took over two months to heal. He was not able to work, could not afford to stay in Italy and returned home. This triggered a negative internal reaction.
“That was when it fell apart,” he admitted. “I had a tough time in my teenage years and one or two childhood traumas as well. I held it together well. If you knew me you wouldn’t think I was anyway down or in a rough spot. I had problems that I wasn’t dealing with and it all came to the fore.
“I started seeing a psychotherapist. That was the first step in helping to deal with the problems. Before that, I thought I had gone down dark roads but [in reality] I avoided dark roads. If you have mental issues you can’t solve your problems by looking at them. You have to go in there to explore what went wrong and what happened. It was extremely tough, but I was lucky to get an amazing psychotherapist who helped me with that.
“It was a difficult year, but I came through it, and I’m a lot better now at dealing with situations than I was. She helped me discover things that I really didn’t know were an issue but were clearly massive things that were blocking me.
“One of the most amazing things I discovered was fear. I’d never would have thought that I feared anything. I would go out teaching all over the world, I would pick a country and go for it. But what I realised is that I was crippled with a fear that wasn’t letting me go. I have let fear dictate my life for the last 29 or 30 years.
“It was a very difficult thing to do … none of this is easy. To get to a certain location you have to go through the worst possible place in order to get there.”
Mountains to climb
Since returning to Ireland and addressing his demons, Michael has taken up hiking and mountaineering in a big way. He said he could regularly go on hikes when abroad, but now he sees the activity in a whole different light.
“The amazing thing is nothing goes through your head,” when asked on what he experiences when hiking. “When you are out there all of your problems melt away. You are out there with the elements and you feel this sense of connection with the landscape. The amazing thing about Ireland is the dynamic weather. You could get to one place and it is incredibly sunny but you get to the next point and there could be cloud cover. The light is constantly changing and you are always treated to something different the further you go.”
Michael has climbed the major peaks in Ireland but completing the Ireland Way is a totally different kettle of fish.
“Its mountains, its roads, its paths, its woods … it pretty much encapsulates all of Ireland into one trail. I have never done hiking over a number of days. This will take up to 40 days – day after day, constantly grinding out the kilometres.”
The 1,000km Ireland Way starts in Castletownbere in West Cork and runs through the heart of Ireland before finishing up in Ballycastle on Antrim’s Giants Causeway coast.
Michael was always interested in hiking the trail, but it took the sudden deaths of two close friends – Pierce Gannon in March 2017 and Louise Furey in January 2018 – to give him the impetus to conquer his fears about whether he was able for it.
Pierce, who was from Westport, was living in Berlin when he died suddenly in his sleep. Louise, from Glenties in Co Donegal, was on holiday in Thailand when she died in an accident.
“I was at Louise’s funeral, and her brother mentioned that the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust were massive in helping to get her [remains] back home. I remembered the same organisation helped Pierce. When I was driving home, it clicked in my head. Why not do the Ireland Way for charity in honour of Pierce and Louise?
“The Ireland Way was something I thought it would be fantastic to do … but the fear would get in my head and say ‘You can’t do that’. I was working on my fear at the time. I said f**k it, I’ll do it.
“When people die, like Pierce and Louise did, it makes you decide to do the extraordinary. You have to be pushing yourself in your life, because otherwise you’ll end up not doing the things you wanted to do. It is just sad that this was the push to get me going,” he reflected.
Challenge your life
The Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust offers financial and logistical assistance to the family of someone who dies overseas and helps them bring the body home. As well as raising money for the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust, Michael is also raising money for Jigsaw, a national charity that provides helps young people aged between 12 and 25 deal with mental health issues.
Michael is an employee with Lidl, which recently pledged to fundraise €1 million for Jigsaw over the next three years.
“Jigsaw are a youth mental health organisation, and straight away that clicked with me because of the tough times I went through as a teenager. I may not have reached out, but the fact is they are there to help. They are only in eight counties at the moment, and they want to be nationwide. They have helped 23,500 young people already with only eight centres, and they want to help so many more.”
Michael thanked Lidl and his managers, Mantas Kerusauskas and Johnny Faddan in Westport, for not only giving him time off to do the Ireland Way but also for their support. He has also received sponsorship from Portwest in Westport. He will be filming his journey, which begins on August 20, and posting on his YouTube channel.
He acknowledges that he has taken on ‘one hell of a challenge’ and says the amount of organisation involved has been ‘absolutely mental’.
“I start on the 20th of August, but since about February last I feel I have been walking the Ireland Way already,” he laughed. “I have never done anything like this before, but from the moment I decided I was going to do it, nothing was going to put me off.”
You can follow Michael’s progress on his YouTube channel ChallengeYour_Life and on his ChallengeYour_Life Facebook and Instagram pages. A bucket collection for the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust will take place in Westport on August 17. You can make a donation to Jigsaw by following the link lidl-and-jigsaw-on e-good-charity-partnership.everydayhero.com/ie/1k-ireland-way-challenge.