Olympian Cassidy appeals to riders after blocked artery diagnosis

Posted on: August 23rd, 2015

Philip Cassidy won the FBD Rás in 1983 and 1999, above. A former national road race and TT champion, last week he had stents inserted for a 75 per cent blocked artery. He said he feels fresher already and has urged other cyclists to closely monitor their bodies as they get older.


A double winner of the FBD Rás, two-time Olympian and one of the best riders Ireland has ever produced, Philip Cassidy has urged older riders to have full health checks regularly after being diagnosed with a blocked artery.

“Cyclists think that because they’re athletes and they’re fit that they’re invincible,” he said.

“But I’d really say to people; especially if you are over 45 years old to go in and get a check done annually and keep on top of it. Don’t mind the price of getting it done, it’s cheaper than keeling over.”

The Meath man, now aged 53 years, said he had been told by everyone he was in great physical condition and had no reason to fear he had any health problems.

However, after feeling increasingly lethargic for around 18 months and more recently feeling a heavy pulse in his chest and having difficulty warming up when out training, he insisted on having an angiogram to explore the condition of his heart.

“I’d always keep a close eye on myself because my father had a triple by-pass in 1992 and that nearly killed him,” he explained.

“Thank God he’s still hale and hearty. He’s 86 now and he’s had two or three stents put in since then.

“But I guess when you have something like that in the family history you’re inclined to be that little bit more careful.

“I just had a feeling something wasn’t right. I’d go to bed and have a long sleep but would still feel tired the next day. I felt lazy actually; I was saying to myself ‘you can’t be that lazy and staying in bed all the time’.

“In the evening I’d glance at my watch and see it was 8 o’clock and I’d say to myself that I couldn’t believe there was another two more hours before I’d normally go to bed.


Riding as a veteran in 2005. Cassidy has kept training since he last raced in 2009 and said everybody had remarked on how fit and healthy he looked when he expressed concerns all may not be right with his condition.


Cassidy continued: “I love going out with the Dunboyne club spin on Saturday’s and Sunday’s and I found in recent times I had a lot of trouble in the early part of the spins; the first half hour or so.

“I was never a rider who had trouble like that, I could ride hard from the gun. And nobody grows old overnight so that just added to my doubts that there was some issue; that something just wasn’t quite right.

“Then I started feeling a pulse in my chest. It wasn’t a pain, but I could feel my pulse in my chest.

“I had high level medical checks and everything came back fine in the last few years, everybody told me I was in great shape.

“The only thing that showed in those tests was slightly elevated blood pressure and slightly elevated cholesterol. But it was nothing that you’d need medication for or anything like that. There was nothing alarming.

“But in the last few months I really pushed it more and I insisted that I get an angiogram done in the Mater.

“When I went in for that, my resting pulse was 55 so they really didn’t expect to find anything wrong. I haven’t drank in 10 years, I don’t smoke and never did.

“Prof (Declan) Sugrue was the one who carried out the angiogram and even he was saying to me on the day he thought I looked in great shape from the cycling I was still doing every weekend.”

Less than two weeks ago that test revealed a 75 per cent blockage in an artery, much to the surprise of the medics treating him.

And last Monday Cassidy went back to the hospital for a short procedure to have two stents inserted into his artery to correct the blockage.


With son Mark checking out the route for the day back in 2009. Cassidy Jnr was an international who won a stage in the Rás, held the yellow jersey and rode for the An Post-Sean Kelly team for most of his senior career.


Cassidy told stickybottle that apart from the one blockage, the rest of his arteries were in “great shape” and that he was given a clean bill of health when he underwent a more comprehensive all-over medical assessment.

“A lot of people have said to me to keep this private but in my experience everyone was telling me that I looked like I was in great condition and yet this was still the diagnosis when I persisted.

“I never had any trouble doing the normal things like running up and down stairs, digging the garden and doing any other kind of manual work.”

Cassidy, who owns the Cycleways shop in Dublin city centre and distributes Specialized in Ireland also has other business interests away from cycling. Despite this and the fact he has not raced fully since 2005 and not at all since 2009, has continued training for pleasure.

He believes if his condition can develop even though he worked to keep his weight down and trained for up to 100km twice each week, it can happen to anyone.

“That’s really the message I want to get across and that’s why I wanted to make some public comments about what’s happened,” he explained.

“I want to say to people to keep an eye on their bodies, to read up about these things. I learnt more from the Irish Heart Foundation website in one hour last week than I had done in the previous 40 years about the effect of foods on the body.

“I missed a half a day from my week getting the angiogram done and one day for the stents procedure and I’ve been in work each days since having it done.

“If I had had a heart attack, which I probably would have at some stage… Even if you survived that, it’s the lasting damage you can do to the heart that’s the real problem.


Winning stage 3 of the FBD Rás into Killorglin in Co Kerry in 2002. Cassidy would last compete in the race in 2005 and has continued cycling for leisure and fitness since his last races in 2009.


“People have no need to fear going to the doctor. And they should persist when they want to get themselves more thoroughly checked out if they are not feeling right even if they are doing plenty of exercise and the medical people think there’s no need for more checks.

“I rode Race the Rás this year and felt great on that and I’ve done lots of other sportives and never had any trouble at all; quite the opposite.

“I was even away in Majorca on the bike for a week and with the Sean Kelly team on their training camp earlier in the year. I didn’t feel that bad, but I just knew there was a niggle there; something that I had to get sorted out.

“Thanks be to God I found it early and it’s totally curable. I went in for the angiogram one morning the week before last at 9.30am and I was back in work in the office at 1pm. They did the procedure through my wrist and all I felt was the pin prick of the needle; absolutely nothing else.

“And when I went back to get the stents in just Monday gone; they went in through my groin. I was out on the bike this morning (Saturday) for an hour and I already feel much more awake, much fresher.”

Cassidy said while wife Anita and adult children Lisa and Mark were concerned when the diagnosis first emerged, the fact his own father had had heart surgery and went on to recover and thrive eased the worry.

“I’d do either procedure again gladly rather than go to the dentist; that’s how simple it was. There was no stress around it whatsoever and all the staff in the Mater Hospital Cardiology unit were superb, they really were.

“And I’m speaking as someone who would be nervous going to hospitals, I don’t feel easy or relaxed in that environment.

“Even when I’d crash years ago I’d clean myself up and bandage myself because I didn’t like doctors and getting stitches and so on. There’s no need to fear this procedure and it’s important to catch it early as you can.”

For more information on the issues raised in this story, you can visit the Irish Heart Foundation’s website by following this link.