Published by BBC NEWS - 25th April 2022

Gerard McLarnon

Image source, Malcolm McCurrach

A 63-year-old man has completed the Etape Loch Ness with an oxygen tank on his back after spending 70 days in hospital with Covid-19.

Gerard McLarnon, from County Antrim, was on a ventilator for 40 days and had to learn how to walk and talk again.

He had intended to complete the 66-mile (106km) sportive in March 2020 but was admitted to hospital with Covid.

The grandfather believes training for the event gave him a level of fitness that helped him fight the virus.

He completed the route in six hours and nine minutes

“This is a really emotional day for me,” Mr McLarnon said. “I had planned to do the Etape Loch Ness along with my fellow riders in Creggan Wheelers back in 2020 and had been training for it.

“I firmly believe that training for the Etape in 2020 saved my life.

“Had I not had that level of fitness to fight Covid, it would have been a different story.”

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Etape Loch Ness is Scotland’s largest closed road cycle sportive, taking cyclists on a route around the Loch, finishing in Inverness.

There is a timed “King of the Mountain” stage with a 4.8 mile (9 km) climb with a gradient reaching 12% at times.

Mr McLarnon completed the race with his cycle club Creggan Wheelers from Randalstown.

Event organisers arranged for him to have oxygen along the route which he carried on his back.

Creggan Wheelers

Image source, Malcolm McCurrach

He added: “Although I am pretty much back to normal, I do still need oxygen for intense physical activity like cycling.

“I am grateful to the organisers for assisting me and I am indebted to and proud of my fellow Creggan Wheelers who stuck by me today, as they have over the last two years.

“We set out together and we finished together. It is this team spirit and a healthy dose of sheer bloody mindedness that has got me through.”

Mr McLarnon’s younger brothers, John and Dominic, are among the members of the Creggan Wheelers club.

John McLarnon said: “There were many times when Gerard was in hospital in Belfast that we were told he wasn’t going to make it, so to see him complete the Etape today is absolutely incredible.”

A record number of 6,100 cyclists signed up for 2022 Etape Loch Ness.

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