Cyclist, rower, soldier, hard man: Paul Giblin we salute you

Posted on: June 18th, 2017

Paul Giblin

Top rower turned international cyclist, Paul Giblin in the colours of Galway Bay CC. He sadly died this week.

 

Cyclist, rower, soldier: Paul Giblin we salute you

 

By Brian Canty

‘Irish rower Paul Giblin dies, aged 34’ was what the Irish Times went with on Monday. And it was those seven words that broke the news to me.

Truth be told, I was close to tears when I read the story that followed.

It was 2.37am in the morning when I checked my phone and saw the headline.

I couldn’t get back to sleep for two hours as I cursed the impossible-odds condition that invaded Paul’s body around 2012 and ultimately killed him.

Refractory Hodgkin’s Lymphoma; a particularly devastating form of cancer that seeps and creeps its way deep into the body.

I first met Paul at a race in early 2010 and I liked him straight away. It was possibly the West Coast Wheelers Open race.

He was easy-going, pleasant, self-deprecating. He was quietly confident but maybe a little shy, strong-willed, very positive and always smiling.

 

Paul Giblin

Paul Giblin

In the green of Ireland as part of the Irish paracycling squad and rowing – front man – in the nationnal championships 11 years ago.

 

Even though he’s had little to smile about since 2012, he still smiled and joked and stayed positive.

We did an interview in 2014 when he said: “The first time you get diagnosed it’s a bit of a novelty.

“That sounds so strange to say but you just don’t know. There’s a bit of excitement almost.

“I was always very, very positive and when it came to the second time I knew it was a lot more serious but it was almost just another test.”

The thing about Paul was, he was so damn good at everything and winning was just his thing. He thrived on examinations of every sort. It brought out the best in him.

He won 18 national rowing titles. He broke course records. He won Ireland’s first medal for 130 years at the Henley Royal Regatta – with the help of three other talented rowers.

He won a World U23 bronze medal in the boat.

He switched to cycling around the same time I did. But while I was battling for 20th in league races he was on the Irish Paracycling Track Team.

He was in the World Championships less than a year after taking up the sport.

 

Paul Giblin

Paul Giblin

With wife Cate and in his Defence Forces kit on a #Marrowmatch fundraiser

 

We started cycling around the same time so I sort of latched onto him and him to me.

I recall us trying to look like we fitted into this new game of lycra, legs and lineouts. We had baggy kit and heavy bikes.

Paul was worse than me though; he had black shoes and ankle socks.

But he was a lot better than I was. I remember us talking in winter 2009 about doing the then FBD Insurance Rás in 2010, not knowing what punishment lay in store.

He wanted to do it because there was a stage finish in Oughterard and the following day we’d race through Galway.

His wife Cate is from Galway and Paul rode for Galway Bay CC, the club that adopted me when I spent a year studying there.

One of my abiding memories of that Rás is the speed we went through Galway at.

Rapha Condor had the yellow jersey Dan Craven and Chris Newton in their ranks but coming through Galway, only one team had to be on the front; Galway Bay CC.

I remember Nigel Forde, who backed the team, standing on the footpath ordering their riders to get up the front. But of course that isn’t easy when the thing is lined out.

Giblin, with his blond locks flapping under his yellow and blue helmet and black shoes, paid no attention to convention.

He rode up the outside of the lineout and pulled the bunch out of town at an impossible speed.

Fifty riders went out the back by the time we reached Kilbeacanty and we made the time limit thanks to Mick Lawless.

Giblin was fearless and ferocious in his conviction.

He rode the nationals that year and there’s a great picture of him – still with the black shoes, ankle socks and blue and yellow helmet  – in the break.

He was  alongside the likes of David McCann, Nicolas Roche, Sam Bennett, Martyn Irvine, Matt Brammeier and a few others of that class.

He didn’t stay there but he won a lot of respect that day. Riders spend their whole lives trying to make the break at the nationals. Most will never make it.

But most don’t have anything close to what Giblin had underneath the bonnet.

Two years on from that and he was clinging to handrails to get to the bathroom.

He hadn’t the strength to get out of bed, so viciously and mercilessly had the cancer ripped through him.

He told me once: “It was April 2012. I felt 100 per cent but there was a lump on my neck.

“I was in the army and I was back training for rowing. I remember doing tests on the machine and doing quite well.

“But I went to the doctor and she said I needed to get the lump checked out. So I did. I caught it very, very early, but that’s how it all kicked off. I was 29.”

He was diagnosed in Naas Hospital as it was close to where he worked in the Curragh as an Army officer. He was a qualified civil engineer with the world at his feet.

He had the requisite treatment that summer in College Hospital in Galway and made plans to return to the barracks.

But two months later, his cancer was back. More chemo, this time in November. Another scan followed at Christmas, but the curse of a thing had returned to his system yet again.

His life no longer belonged to him.  Doctors picked and poked and scanned him for clues.

They came to the conclusion that he should consider a stem cell transplant as there was no guarantee the outcome would be different with chemo next time around.

He opted for the transplant and that was performed in April 2013, but there was more chemo before it and radiotherapy followed in May and June.

He married the love of his life, Cate Crowe, in 2014 and a year earlier he coached the NUIG intermediate eight to a national title. He didn’t sit on his hands, that’s for sure.

He went back to training in late November 2013 and things started to look up but in September of the following year, 2014, he developed a cough that wouldn’t go away.

And sure enough, his worst fears were confirmed and that Christmas was a bleak, bleak time for him.

“The third time it took me a long time to get up for the fight again and it was just because I know what it all entails,” he said.

He was trapped and backed into corners but always made decisions and sought answers to get out.

So a mismatched stem cell transplant was what he was now confronted with; a procedure that involves receiving some other person’s cells in the hope those cells will fight the cancer.

Some match, but the majority don’t.

Giblin once told me about a guy in the US he was in contact with via Facebook messenger. A guy who had had this incredibly risky treatment.

They were back and forth with chit-chat every few days, until his messages went unanswered.

Growing concerned, Giblin contact the guy’s house phone.

When he did, he learnt the guy had died. Another massive setback.

Ideally, a sibling is the best possible match for stem cell treatment but neither of his two sisters matched.

So he cast the net further into a Global Registry and the best they could come up with was a ‘mismatch’.

“You’re either going to win big, or lose big, it’s like going ‘all-in’ in a game of poker. It’ll go one way or the other,” he said at the time.

Throughout the ongoing struggle, Giblin stayed as upbeat and as positive as he could.

But each time he was rebuffed and the years that followed were grim, with fleeting moments of hope.

This week, the hope went out and Giblin passed away at the age of 34 years.

Perhaps his death is most painful because he had so much more to give in life.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Cate, parents John and Helen, sisters Geraldine and Anne Marie, mother-in-law Mary, brothers-in-law John and Gearoid, sister-in-law Ann Marie, nephews Cian and Dara and extended family and friends.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

 

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