AN ARMY VETERAN from Achill Island who lost a leg in Afghanistan is aiming to be the first amputee to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Paddy Gallagher, originally from the UK, moved to Achill Island with his family when he was two years old. He returned to the UK in 2005 and joined the British Army in 2006, serving in the Irish Guard for eight years.
Gallagher is planning to depart on his 2,000-nautical mile journey in the middle of June, starting at St John’s in Newfoundland, Canada and ending at Achill Island. He is expecting to complete it in 56 days if he keeps rowing for 12 to 18 hours every day.
Gallagher says he was inspired by famous ocean rower Don Allum, who was the first person to row solo across the Atlantic in both directions in 1987.
“I was a boy when Don Allum came [to Achill Island] and since then it has been a boyhood dream of mine to be a rower,” Gallagher told TheJournal.ie.
During his time in the army, Gallagher was involved in operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but it was during a night patrol in Afghanistan in 2009 that he was blown up by an improvised explosive device and lost his right leg below the knee as a result.
After leaving the army Gallagher came across Row2Recovery, a rowing programme run for members of the military with disabilities, and through it the Talisker Whisky Challenge.
The Talisker Whisky Challenge is a gruelling race from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the West Indies. Gallagher, along with his three other teammates, completed the transatlantic trip in 46 days, 6 hours and 49 minutes.
Finishing 8th out of 26 teams, they earned a world record in the process as they became the first physically disabled team of four to row an ocean completely unsupported.
Gallagher said that competing in the Talisker Whisky Challenge gave him the confidence to attempt a solo rowing transatlantic trip.
According to Gallagher, the solo expedition presents a number of challenges, with one of the most difficult being how to deal with the isolation.
“Isolation is going to a huge challenge, just being alone for a prolonged time in a confined space”, said Gallagher. “It does play mind games, the isolation, but it is part of it.”
Safety on board the boat will be of the utmost importance for Gallagher as there will be nobody there to assist should anything go wrong.
Gallagher said a lot of the trip will be about ‘self-discipline’ because “If I go overboard it would be very much game over”.
“It’s a challenge moving around the boat, especially for somebody with one leg, your balance is affected” said Gallagher.
Because of the dangers involved in the trip, Gallagher will be anchored to his boat at all times. He will also be wearing a location device so that the British coastguard can locate him should the worst happen and redirect ships to assist him.
However, being restricted to just the boat also presents another challenge many may not consider.
“When you’re at home on your couch, you can get up and walk across the street”, said Gallagher, “but not when you’re on a tiny rowing boat, I just want to go for a walk and you can’t do that”.
Gallagher now is in full preparation mode, working hard on the rowing machine and taking his boat out on the coast since it arrived earlier this month. He has also been getting interest from sponsors.
The former soldier is using the expedition to raise money for the Irish Guards Benevolent Fund.
“It motivates me to be an inspiration for people and it doesn’t have to be for someone with disabilities”, said Gallagher.
The fundraising page for the Paddy Gallagher’s 1 Man 1 Leg 1 Ocean trip can be seen here.