Next month, the De La Salle College teacher will undertake a calorie-depleting, nerve-shredding and mentally taxing ascent of the 19,343-feet high mountain (in aid of Pieta House), “nine Slievenamons,” as Enda analogised.
To do this with just a regular backpack would represent quite the achievement, but to undertake this trek with just over six and a quarter stone of additional washing machine-owed weight to take into account, profoundly makes this ascent with a difference.
But this is Enda O’Doherty (49), who has already walked 379 kilometres from Belfast to Port Láirge with said washing machine, supreme willpower and humbling levels of support from friends old and new, and, most significantly, from family.
Enda does nothing by half, and that he takes on these challenges with an abundance of good humour and self-deprecation makes him easy to like and even easier to admire.
“I’m a mixed bag,” says he when I enquire into his conditioning ahead of his latest Pieta Challenge.
“From the top down, the head is great. I’m really determined, I’m really excited and I’m really looking forward to Kilimanjaro. I’ve almost 400 days of training under my belt, specifically for this challenge, and over the past six weeks, that’s meant two to three hours training per day so it’s been a long, long haul. I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be at this stage, I reckon.
Enda continued, with a slight grin: “The hearts and lungs are good, the boobs are like concrete, the shoulders are good – I’m like a small ox at the moment – but I did strain my left knee a few weeks back; I have tendonitis and the IT band is quite sore and I think I have a tear in the meniscus too. Going up the mountain with the washing machine is tough enough, but going up it with a leg and a half is going to make that little more testing for me, but I have some mightily fit, muscly and trim 20 and 30-year-olds whom I’ll definitely be sharing the load with at some stage. This isn’t purely a mental health slogan, I’ll be forced to do that at some stage, but that’s for when I’m on the mountain. I’ll face that when it comes my way.”
The training required for this challenge is “light years” beyond what Enda put in for his Belfast to Waterford walk, and he admitted that the physical and mental toil of that particular adventure left him short of more than just a few layers of heel skin.
“The last section of that walk, into Waterford (which I joined in over the last eight miles from Mullinavat), I genuinely have problems recalling conversations I had with a lot of people that day, including yourself. It was an overwhelming day for a whole host of reasons, but looking back on all the photos of those we met along the way and the crowds along The Quay when I got back home, made it worth every single step. It really did.”
And what of Kilimanjaro? “It’s 19,000 feet, it’s eight days climbing upwards, and every day you’re losing oxygen. The last night will be a 17-hour hike in darkness at minus 20 degrees, with 40 per cent oxygen (he’s trained at WIT in an oxygen mask), so if you turn up for that and you’re not prepared, this one could kill me – so I really am taking this seriously.
“I’m driven by a couple of things: fear of failure and a fear of dying on the mountain, and I genuinely mean that. I realise that a lot of people are following this and depending on it for hope and inspiration so for that reason, the training has been multiple times harder…this time around, there’s no four or five star hotels either. It’s a sleeping bag and a tent with whatever we can boil on a campfire (for sustenance), and that’s a real challenge in itself. I don’t like the dark and I’m a bit claustrophobic so there are two more things I’ll have to factor in! But I’m much better prepared this time around, no doubt about it.”
Ten people will die by suicide in Ireland this week, Enda reminded me, as he spoke about what will drive him towards Uhuru Peak, towering above the Great Rift Valley.
“The people of Waterford city, our Mayors and the media in Waterford helped drive the opening of Pieta House in Waterford,” he added.
“A lot of people thought me walking from Belfast to Dublin with the washing machine was a crazy idea and that it wouldn’t catch on, and I was told Pieta wouldn’t expand or ever open in Waterford. I like it when people tell me something can’t be done. Well, Pieta House is open at the Waterside and people are getting help locally, which is fantastic.
“I carried the washing machine from Belfast to Waterford, which I was determined to do, and now I’m a few weeks away from hiking Kilimanjaro (in the company of 35 fellow fundraisers, who’ve each raised €4000) and it’s all about spreading a positive mental health message, about sharing the load and that message is going to help me up that mountain. Life can and will get better if you reach out, and I’ll never grow weary of sharing that message with anyone.”
Best wishes to Enda and his fellow Pieta Challengers, whom I hope will all come back in one piece – yes, even the country’s only celebrity washing machine!