Addicted to life: Enda O’Doherty on sharing the load and sharing his story

The author of I’m Fine channels his addictive tendencies to raise funds and awareness

Enda O’Doherty with the washing machine he carried to within two hours of the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro during a Pieta House fundraiser in the summer of 2017.

Enda O’Doherty with the washing machine he carried to within two hours of the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro during a Pieta House fundraiser in the summer of 2017.

 

“The North Pole Marathon would be some challenge,” Enda O’Doherty declared during one of the 30-plus sit-down interviews I conducted with him for our co-production, aptly titled I’m Fine.

“But I can’t help thinking the organisers wouldn’t be too keen on a fella in his 50s carrying a washing machine on his back in sub-zero temperatures for at least 12 hours. But there’s massive appeal to taking on something like that. Everything about it is savage. The cargo boxes containing the tents and equipment that mark out the landing strip get airdropped before Russian paratroopers follow suit, out of the plane and onto the site. The event itself is complete masochism and it generally takes between 10 and 11 hours to cover the distance.”

Enda, his eyes dancing as they did throughout the two and half years of our collaboration, continued: “Now, freezing weather aside, there are other drawbacks – the €14,000 entry fee being one. Secondly, I’d probably need a corporate sponsor and a fundraising pot of around €70,000 – and that’s what I’d need to have in the bank before I could justify taking on something like that. Then of course I’d have to persuade the organisers about carrying the washing machine or, at the very least, some sort of a facsimile since the regular metal model wouldn’t be compatible with the conditions. Maybe I’d have to wear some sort of a weight-equivalent suit instead. Then again, I could take on the Great Wall of China with the washing machine once travel like that is on the agenda again. Me and 30 other Irish people covering seven to eight marathon distances along a route with little or any flat sections. Why not do either – or both? We should never say never. It’s healthy to leave yourself open to any potential experience, especially now when we all can’t wait to come out the other side of Covid.”

I’m Fine is, essentially, a meditation on the importance of seizing a second chance at life. Enda, a secondary school teacher at Waterford’s De La Salle College, has been sober for almost 13 years. Channelling his addictive tendencies, Enda used his 40s to get fit – Ironman-level fit – before embarking on two fundraising adventures with a washing machine for company.

So why a washing machine? “I knew that walking from Belfast to Waterford back in 2015, to support the work of Pieta House, required a gimmick,” he said.

“I knew I needed something that would not only punish me physically but would generate media attention, which it did. I felt I needed a literal load to carry, something which visibly illustrated the mental load that so many people in this country are burdened by on a daily basis. Sadly, that load is too much for some people to bear, as our suicide rate has underlined for far too long. I wanted to let as many people as possible know that sharing the load can make life easier and that a relative, friend or colleague, someone who could be suffering in silence, could benefit from simply asking them a very short but hugely significant question: how are you?”

He continued: “Not only that, but if you’re the overburdened one, reaching out, asking for help and sharing the load has the potential to make your life immeasurably better. For so much of my own time in the fog, I didn’t share the load. I drank instead. Then the light got back in and things changed in a way for me that I could never have imagined. And the sum total of those experiences motivated me to share my story and it’s culminated in this book.”

Enda O’Doherty: “I felt I needed a literal load to carry, something which visibly illustrated the mental load that so many people in this country are burdened by on a daily basis.”
Enda O’Doherty: “I felt I needed a literal load to carry, something which visibly illustrated the mental load that so many people in this country are burdened by on a daily basis.”

Come 2017, Enda, his washing machine, wife Maeve and 33 Irish supporters took to Mount Kilimanjaro, again in support of Pieta House. Just two hours from the summit, his weakening condition prevented Enda from carrying the white appliance all the way to the top. But the machine was carried to Africa’s highest peak by a Tanzanian porter while Maeve, the smallest member of the group, was the first to summit. “My Maeve,” said Enda. “She’s made of titanium.”

He added: “Of course I was disappointed not to reach the summit. But I realised a man dying on a trek whose reason for being was to support a charity which does its best to preserve and champion life wouldn’t have been great PR. So four men took me down the mountain on a stretcher while the washing machine and Maeve reached their destination. But this whole endeavour, just like Belfast to Waterford, was all about sharing the load. Bruised ego and all, that’s exactly what I ended up doing. I’d trained and fundraised for a year and the group ultimately dragged that washing machine up the mountain. It was an incredible experience.”

Enda’s second chance at life is one he has clearly and enthusiastically grasped, and it’s been fired by one over-riding maxim: Every day, do one thing that others won’t, then one day achieve something that others can’t.

“That’s how I’ve chosen live my life since the day I stopped drinking,” he said. “A sparkling diamond is created by imperfection. All the things that went pear shaped in its natural formation ultimately give it its beauty. The imperfections of my own life have, in their own way, led to so many life-changing adventures. Look, I could do without the blisters and the diarrhoea I experienced during my treks, but enduring those episodes led me to people and places which has brought so much joy and value to my life. That’s what had me dancing in a tent in Tanzania a day after being told I needed to stop climbing Kilimanjaro unless I wanted to die.

“I’ve chased a few dreams and fulfilled some of them – and I’d like to think I’m not done yet.”

I’m Fine: Thoughts on Life, Addiction, Love and Health (Red Stripe Press, €18) is available here

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