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Long Covid sufferer Gerard, 63, completes 66-mile cycle sportive

A 63-year-old man from Randalstown has successfully completed the 2022 Etape Loch Ness after a long battle with Covid-19 which saw him hospitalised for 70 days, 57 of which in ITU and 40 days on a ventilator.

It left Gerard McLarnon having to learn how to walk, talk and swallow again.

Gerard was in hospital longer than most patients admitted with Covid in NI during the pandemic. Completing the Etape Loch Ness last month was an immense achievement not just for Gerard but also for the Creggan Wheelers, the cycle club in Randalstown that has played such a big part in his recovery.

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Speaking about completing the 66-mile cycle sportive, Gerard said: “This is a really emotional day for me. 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. Then I was admitted to hospital on March 31st where I was to remain for 70 days.

Gerard McLarnon from Randalstown with his oxygen in his back pack Image: Malcolm McCurrach | New Wave Images UK

“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.”

Gerard’s younger brothers John and Dominic joined him for the Etape, part of the team of 14 from the Creggan Wheelers.

Gerard completed the 66-mile cycle, which starts and finishes in Inverness and takes riders along the iconic Loch Ness, in 06:09:15. The event organisers arranged for him to have regular oxygen along the route which he carried on his back.

Gerard, a father of three and grandfather of four, returned home to his beloved wife Kathleen.

When asked about his next challenge, he said: “This was the big one for me and it shows how far I have come.

“The final stage of recovery will be losing the oxygen supply - that is my next goal, but I know I have to be patient.”