Andrew’s will of iron helps him complete gruelling challenge

Iron men: Keith Clarke, Robert Davison and Andrew Hassard who completed the Decaman challenge for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland. INNT 30-213-CON
Iron men: Keith Clarke, Robert Davison and Andrew Hassard who completed the Decaman challenge for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland. INNT 30-213-CON

A SUPERFIT triathlete from Ballyclare has successfully completed one of the toughest challenges of his life for charity.

Andrew Hassard displayed an iron will by finishing an amazing mammoth triathlon each day for 10 days in aid of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland - the new name for the Ulster Cancer Foundation.

Andrew took up the challenge along with two friends, Bob Davison, from Cookstown, and Keith Clarke, from Dungannon.

The gruelling Decaman triathlon took place at Eskragh Lough, Dungannon, from July 6 to 15. The men swam 24 miles, which is further than the English Channel, cycled 1,120 miles - that is, four times the length of Ireland, and ran 262 miles, the equivalent of 10 Belfast marathons - all in 10 days.

Other participants undertook their own personal challenges in cycling, swimming and running to help raise vital funds the Cancer Focus Northern Ireland Men’s Health campaign.

In total, 12 people completed the Iron Distance challenge, 13 completed their first half Iron Distance, 7 completed their first marathon, 6 completed their first half marathon, 35 completed an Iron Distance cycle and 32 completed an Iron Distance swim.

The entire event is expected to raise a massive £10,000 for the charity.

The Decaman race is the world’s hardest triathlon and there are only about 60 other people who have managed to succeed. In comparison, over 1,500 have reached the top of Everest and more people have walked on the moon.

Andrew, who works for Chain Reaction Cycles in Doagh, has always been keen on sports and previously took part in a Four Peaks Challenge for Cancer Focus.

He said: “The Decaman was like no other challenge I’ve done, and tested my mental and physical strength to the limit.

“I was a bit sore and swollen for a few days after the event and all I wanted to do was sleep, but I got over it. The sense of achievement is amazing and it is still sinking in.

“I was expecting it to be an absolute buster, and it was. One of the toughest parts was going round and round the same circuits, knowing it had to be done again the next day. It did get a bit monotonous. After that it was a matter of mind over matter to keep on going. I can’t quite believe we did it!” he said.

He added: “Without the help and assistance of our support teams none of us would have got anywhere near completing the Decaman. They did all the work in the background to make sure we were able to get to the start line each morning, make it to the finish line each day and get to bed as quickly as possible. The hot food, clean clothes, drinks and any other requests we had were all handled brilliantly by them.”

In recent years Andrew has also completed various triathlons including four Ironman distance races - Ironman France 2010 in Nice, Groomsport Ireman in 2011, which he won, Enduroman Lanzarote in February 2012 and two weeks before the Decaman he completed the Celtman in Scotland. Last June Andrew finished sixth in Double Ironman UK in a time of 33hrs 15m.

“I’ve also completed various adventure races, ultra-marathons and other long distance events. The challenge of going that little bit further than last time and completing what at first seems impossible just ticks a lot of boxes with me,” he said.

“I’m really grateful to all those who have supported us and I’m totally humbled by the donations which have come in over the last few weeks. This will raise vital funds for Cancer Focus, which does so much excellent work with cancer patients and their families right across Northern Ireland.”

Cancer Focus Fundraising Officer Paul O’Gara said: “Everyone at Cancer Focus is so impressed with the achievement of these three men - and all the members of the public who took part in a variety of sporting events during the ten days. We would like to thank everyone who took part or helped in any way to make this a brilliant fundraiser.

“Cancer has a major impact on the health of men in Northern Ireland. Each year around 4,000 men are diagnosed with some form of the disease - that’s a shocking statistic.

“All the money raised at this event will go towards our men’s health campaign which aims to minimise the impact of cancer among men. We bring fitness and health programmes such as Smoking Cessation Clinics and Male Quick Fit Checks into workplaces, and have a full range of counselling and support services for men and their families, a confidential helpline, and art and creative writing therapy.”

Paul added: “I would particularly like to offer a huge thank you to Robert, Keith and Andrew for completing this incredible challenge, which was full of highs and lows. All three suffered many injuries and ailments throughout the ten days but they showed enormous courage and determination to get to the finish line to become Decamen. I would also like to thank all the sponsors, especially Awen Sport and BodyLab NI who took care of first aid and massage for all the athletes.”

The event was sponsored by Chain Reaction Cycles, High 5, Gatorade, Compressport, ZeroD, Elite Timing - the chosen timing partner for the Northern Ireland Decaman Challenge, JJ Ballantine and Co. Insurance Services, Performance Nutrition Plus and Awen Sport.

Ballyclare councillor Pat McCudden has congratulated Andrew on his “amazing achievement”.

“Andrew should also be commended for the dedicated training he undertook in order to successfully finish this challenge. To complete a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and then a 26.2 mile marathon once could be applauded, but to do it for 10 consecutive days is an outstanding achievement,” said Mr McCudden.

“Cancer Focus Northern Ireland is a great charity and there is still time for local people to recognise Andrew’s hard work and donate via www.justgiving.com.”

Readers can still help raise funds for Cancer Focus online at www.justgiving.com/AndrewDeca, by texting DECA10 £x amount to 70070, or follow the charity on Facebook.