National rowing champion Paul Giblin raising awareness of Bone Marrow registry

The 17-time Irish champion, to be married this week, needs bone marrow match by January

For Paul Giblin, one of Ireland's most decorated rowers, a third relapse of cancer won't derail his marriage plans this weekend.

Last February, with his cancer in remission for a second time, Paul proposed to his girlfriend Cate and is due to be married this Saturday.

The only chance that anyone with Paul’s condition has of being cured is if a suitable Bone Marrow/Stem Cell donor can be found on the Global Registry, the pool from which all donations are drawn. Paul needs to find a bone marrow match before January and there are currently no “ideal” matches available.

“I proposed back in February when I was in remission and the plans were put in place then,” he explained today. “So this wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction, and we decided then at the time that we were going ahead with it.”


Stem-cell transplant

Paul, 31, who has also competed in the 2010 cycling Rás during an impressive couple of seasons on the cycling circuit, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in April 2012 and is currently undergoing his fourth regime of chemotherapy, having also had an autologous (own) stem-cell transplant and radiotherapy.

Unfortunately the chemotherapy treatment he is currently receiving will not cure him, it will just buy him time.

“In September I was diagnosed and obviously it was very upsetting, it’s my third relapse, actually my fourth time to have cancer back, and it does mean my options are running out. But while the stem-cell transplant is a risky procedure, it does have rewards and a great chance of a lasting remission.”

Donor registry

The 17-time Irish rowing champion is hoping to save his and others’ lives by increasing the number of potential Bone Marrow/Stem Cell donors on the Global Registry.

Friends of Paul have launched the #MarrowMatch campaign on social media and a website with a view to significantly increasing the number of bone marrow donors to give people in Paul’s situation a fighting chance.

However, they insist that “this is a gift that will keep on giving and which some day you or a loved one may need and benefit from.”

“(When first diagnosed) I was in shock, I was in perfect health at the time,” Paul said. “It’s usually, Hodgkins, a very curable condition, and I was very unfortunate that my remission didn’t last.

“It has been a challenge, sport does prepare your body and mind and being fit and healthy going in I’d view as an advantage, and you need all the advantages you can get.

“In my situation there is a mismatch donor available, and it isn’t ideal going into the transplant but if I can’t get an ideal donor (I will be going ahead with it).”


Along with the strength and confidence gained from his vast sporting achievements, central to Paul’s positivity is the support of his family and friends, in particular his fiancée Cate.

“She’s been very supportive, I’ll be taking a break from the campaign after today though as I need to take a step back from it all and enjoy the build up over the next few days and afterwards.”

Paul is a double winner at Henley Royal Regatta, and a medallist at the World Under-23 Rowing Championships and World Student Games.

The qualified civil engineer has retrained in recent years and now works as an Army officer, stationed at Dún Uí Mhaolaíosa in Galway. He also competed at the World Para Cycling Championships as the sighted pilot in the tandem event.

“My friend set up the campaign hoping to kick off this whole idea to get more people signed up for the bone marrow registry, but from the outset it’s important to point out that this is not for me, it’s a worldwide cause.

“Obviously I’m one of those in need, but when I said it to a lot of my friends, a lot of them weren’t even aware it existed.

“There’s a lack of awareness in Ireland, but what I don’t want to happen is that people think this is Paul looking for help for himself, I’m just looking to raise awareness and when the lads added my story to the campaign it has helped.”

Eamon Donoghue

Eamon Donoghue

Eamon Donoghue is a sports journalist with The Irish Times