West Berkshire man's recovery triathlon at Dorney Lake will help fund rehab equipment for West Berkshire Community Hospital
THIS time last year Gavin McLaughlin was fit and healthy, enjoyed swimming and running and had competed in the World Age-Group Triathlon Championships.
But over the course of one weekend in October a stroke slowly took over his body, leaving him unable to move.
Now, just nine months later, the 51-year-old is preparing to embark on the toughest triathlon he’s ever taken part in, and also raise money for the hospital that helped him on the road to recovery.
A chance chat with one of the physiotherapists at West Berkshire Community Hospital during his rehab planted the seed in Mr McLaughlin’s head that he could get back to competing.
“I was always a triathlete,” he said. “I thought ‘I wonder if I can get back to that’, just as a joke really, but then I thought it was good to have a goal.
“They are a fantastic bunch at the West Berkshire Community Hospital, but there was a definite need for some more of the rehabilitation equipment.”
Mr McLaughlin, who was also a coach at Newbury’s athletics and triathlon club Team Kennet, said he was lucky to be able to have some private physiotherapy sessions, which are still helping with his rehabilitation, and he wondered “how much more could other people improve if they had access to better facilities”.
The thought of helping raise money for the new equipment and the urge to compete again has led to him signing up for a triathlon at Eton’s Dorney Lake on July 3.
He will swim 400m, cycle 21km and then finish with a 5km run – something he would have taken in his stride just 12 months ago.
“I had gone out on a bike ride with my son on the Friday,” he explained. “We had been out for about two hours and when we came back I had a bit of numbness in my legs, but I brushed it off.
“It went away but then the next day it came back and I could tell there wasn’t something quite right with my arm. Then I also noticed, while I wasn’t slurring, it was taking a bit more effort to form the words.”
A quick call to 111 saw them send an ambulance and Mr McLaughlin was rushed to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.
“My whole right-hand side was shutting down and my speech was slurring,” he said. “By Monday I couldn’t move at all.”
Mr McLaughlin, who lives in Hampstead Norreys with his wife and two sons, had suffered a brain stem stroke and he spent four days at the RBH before being transferred to West Berkshire.
“I was remarkably calm and I was convinced I was going to get better,” he said. “I just kept concentrating on the little things I could do.
“I spent seven-and-a-half weeks in hospital in total and I came home just before Christmas.”
He said he now finds it difficult to do the sports he used to take for granted, as he is “not perfectly aligned”.
“The run is the bit I am really nervous about,” he said. “I know I can do it on its own, but not after a swim and a bike.
“I am going to do everything to recover, but I know there may be a limit to where I can get to.”
Mr McLaughlin, who swan competitively as a youngster, took part in the World Triathlon Championships in Lausanne the year before his stroke, finishing 24th in his age group and the fourth Brit.
He began a phased return to work – as a project manager at AWE – in March and said his company had been “fantastic at supporting me”.
If you would like to sponsor Mr McLaughlin, visit his fundraising page at https://gofund.me/05374bfd