Meet the Meath man running the London marathon for two great causes and in memory of a late friend
"He was always the life and soul of the party."
Last September, tragedy struck during the SSE Airtricity Dublin half-marathon, when 23-year old John McHugh collapsed and died of a suspected heart attack during the race.
A talented rugby player with Coolmine Rugby Club and school captain during his final year in Belvedere College, John’s loss came as a massive shock and had a profound impact on his family and friends.
Seven months on, John’s friend Ronan O’Byrne will pay tribute to his memory when running in the London Marathon on 24 April and he is using his participation in the race as an opportunity to raise money for two charities, CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) and the Epilepsy Society.
The charitable aspect played a big part in Ronan deciding to get involved, but maintaining John’s legacy was hugely important too.
Speaking to JOE this week, Ronan has vivid and very fond memories of a man whose life was cut tragically short.
“He was an absolute gent, a real bubbly lad,” Ronan told us.
“He was good at everything, from rugby to karaoke to anything really; he was always the life and soul of the party.”
“I'm living in England now and I went back for the funeral and it really shook up the group, big time,” Ronan added.
“In a way, it brought everyone closer together, I suppose.
“A good few of us are living abroad so we all came home for the funeral and had a few days together. It was good in that sense, but it was such a shock to the system.
“He was such a fit man; he was a winger for Coolmine. He wasn't a big man, but he'd always put his body on the line, throw himself in front of the big lad. He was fearless.”
The charities Ronan is raising awareness of are particularly close to his heart.
Ronan himself has had epilepsy since the age of 12, while CRY are doing important work to raise awareness of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS), a condition that has claimed the lives of many young people, including John, in this country in recent years.
To help raise awareness and funds for his causes, Ronan has used his contacts to gather together a seriously impressive collection of sporting memorabilia that will be going up for auction.
Amongst the items up for grabs will be an Ireland rugby jersey signed by the entire squad, an England jersey signed by Eddie Jones’ Grand Slam-winning outfit and signed Dublin and Meath GAA jerseys.
If that’s not enough, those who lend their support can lay claim to prizes such as weekend passes to the British Touring Car Championships, tickets to the Croke Park skyline walk, €150 vouchers for Bobos burgers and, what will be the most sought-after prize of all, a lunch date with Ronan himself.
To win those prizes, those making donations are asked to guess the time that Ronan will complete the marathon in, down to the nearest second.
Whoever gets closest to the exact time will get the first pick of the prizes, whoever gets second closest gets the second pick and, well, you get the picture.
Every donation of £5 gets you one guess and if you want to lend your support you can do so here, as long as you get your guess in before the race itself.
As a guide to the sort of time you can expect Ronan to run – we know how much people will want that lunch date after all – he has never run a marathon before, but he recently completed 22 miles in two hours and 44 minutes.
Not bad for a novice, not bad at all.
A recent groin injury while playing football has been a minor setback, but Ronan is confident he’s good to go ahead of Sunday.
“I play team sports and I've never really been into long-distance running or anything like that so it's been a gruelling few weeks,” Ronan says.
“The legs have taken a bit of a pounding, but hopefully we're ready now for Sunday.
“The last few days, I've been doing a bit of cycling, I've been in the gym, doing some very light stuff, no running or no impact training. From here on in, it's just about relaxing and eating well, getting the carbs in as we get closer to the day.”
Ronan’s mother and father and some friends from Dublin and London will be there to lend support on the day so he won’t be short of encouragement.
And, with a little over 26 miles to run, he’ll need it.
There will, of course, be 36,000 or so runners alongside him throughout, but the memory of an absent friend will act as the ultimate motivation to drive Ronan over the finishing line.