Rathangan fire victim wins weight battle to tackle double Ironman

Just a year and eight months ago, Rathangan man, John Casey was lying in a hospital bed with third degree burns on 30% of his body.

Just a year and eight months ago, Rathangan man, John Casey was lying in a hospital bed with third degree burns on 30% of his body.

Injured by an exploding gas cylinder at his home in Feighcullen, he lost the power in his hands and was told it would take time to return. He was overweight and his doctors warned him he needed to tackle it. With his confidence at an all time low, the taxi man’s weight soon soared to 23 and a half stone and a waist measuring 44 inches.

Today, it’s a much different scenario. The 39-year-old has become an inspiration - a word used all too lightly, but is totally appropriate in this case. John, who originally hails from Donore, Caragh, is ten and a half stone lighter. He cycles, he runs, he swims. He is feeling better than ever with buckets of energy and enthusiasm, and has completed his first ironman race with plans to tackle an epic double ironman this year.

Just last Tuesday January 8, he featured on RTE’s Operation Transformation. He was filmed jogging down the River Slate in Rathangan with presenter Kathryn Thomas as he told his story. With such an overwhelming response from the public, John’s message is simple; “Anyone can do it.” Now living in Doorley Park, Rathangan, John stressed; “People think it’s some kind of miracle but I say to them that it can be done. It is possible.”

“My daughter Leanne put me forward for the Operation Transformation programme. They were looking for people who had lost loads of weight and followed the leaders. I got a phone call from RTE and they said they wanted to use my story for the show. They came out here and the filmed for the day,” he explained.

He told of how he was spurred to act when he saw a family photo taken for his daughter’s 21st birthday in August 2011.

“I wasn’t under any illusions, I knew I was a heavy man but I realised I looked absolutely dreadful,” he said. He embarked on an exercise regime and starting watching what he ate. He found he really enjoyed different activities.

“I completed my first ironman in Galway last September. It wasn’t about breaking any records. I just wanted to complete it. I was delighted with that, it has been a long road to go from a man who could barely walk to doing an ironman in a year. I have so much energy now, I don’t know what to do with it.”

John recalled that horrific time back in May 2011.

“I got caught up in a fire. I had third degree burns on 30% of my body. I lost most of the movement, the power in my hands and I had to get that back. The doctors told me I would have to lose weight but to leave it for about a year so I could heal up first. They said I was in good health but my weight could cause problems in the future. I got terrible down in myself. The little bit of confidence I had went.”

When he started his fitness drive, running came naturally to John as he had previously won All Ireland medals when he was in his teens. As often happens, his interest faded once he reached his twenties. He believes doing a variety of exercise is vital when trying to lose weight. He took up swimming in Edenderry pool where there is also a very good dry land exercise class. He also cycles with Clane cycling club and runs. He stressed it can be daunting trying to lose weight on your own, so John recommends people join up with a group.

“My wife was very cruel,” he jokes, “I was a 44 waist and as I was losing weight, I needed a new trousers but she said she wasn’t going to get me one in case I put the weight back on. I didn’t realise I was down to a 36 inch waist. Everybody was telling me ‘Ah Jesus John, would you not get a new trousers,” he said. Now he is down to a 32 inch waist.

Diet was also a big factor in John’s transformation. He started to count the calories and changed his eating habits. He recommends that people download a calorie counter onto their computer or smart phone or keep a diary of what they eat.

He pointed out you have to be honest with yourself and he outlined he doesn’t starve himself but eats sensibly.

John and his wife Anne have three children - Davin, 25, Leanne, 22, and Jessica, 15,

“My family are delighted. They have been behind me in everything. They laughed at me the first time I said I was going to the gym. That was because I was always saying I was going to lose weight, I was going to lose weight, but then I made excuses. People are always making excuses. I did. People say, oh my kids are grown up now and I just can’t lose the weight. Then you have someone else saying my family are all big, I am the same, that’s just the way it is. That’s nonsense. Everyone can do it. It’s not easy, you have to train yourself but it’s worth it.”

This year, John is planing a cycle from Mizen Head to Malin Head. An ironman competition in Barcelona in October is also on the cards which includes a 4km swim, an 180km bike ride and a full marathon. He is also planning to take part in a double ironman competition in Dungannon which features an 8km swim, a 360km bike ride and two marathons within 36 hours.

“I know I might not complete it but I am going to give it a good go,” declared John.

- Niamh O’Donoghue