West Berkshire Men’s Recovery Triathlon at Dorney Lake will help fund West Berkshire Community Hospital rehab equipment
By THIS time last year, Gavin McLaughlin was fit and healthy, enjoyed swimming and running, and had competed in the Age Group Triathlon World Championships.
But over 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 most difficult triathlon he has ever competed in and raise money for the hospital that helped him on the way recovery.
A chance conversation with one of the physiotherapists at West Berkshire Community Hospital during his rehabilitation planted the seed in Mr McLaughlin’s head that he could resume competition.
“I’ve always been a triathlete,” he says. “I was like ‘I wonder if I can come back to this’, just as a joke, but I thought it was good to have a goal.
“They are a fantastic bunch at West Berkshire Community Hospital, but there was a definite need for a little more rehabilitation equipment.”
Mr McLaughlin, who was also a coach at Newbury Track and Triathlon Club Team Kennet, said he was lucky to be able to have private physiotherapy sessions, which always help him rehabilitate, and he wondered “how much more could others improve if they had access to better facilities”.
The idea of helping raise funds for the new equipment and the urge to compete again led him to register for a triathlon at Lake Dorney in Eton on July 3.
He will swim 400m, cycle 21km and finish with a 5km run – something he would have taken in his stride just 12 months ago.
“I was out by bike with my son on Friday,” he explained. “We had been out for about two hours and when we came back I had a little numbness in my legs, but I swept it away.
“It went, but the next day it came back and I could tell something was wrong with my arm. Then I also noticed that while I wasn’t chatting, it took a bit more effort to form the words.
A quick call to 111 saw them dispatch an ambulance and Mr McLaughlin was rushed to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.
“My whole right side was shutting down and my speech was scrambled,” he said. “On Monday, I couldn’t move at all.”
Mr McLaughlin, who lives in Hampstead Norreys with his wife and two sons, suffered a stroke and spent four days at RBH before being transferred to West Berkshire.
“I was remarkably calm and I was convinced that I was going to improve myself,” he said. “I just kept focusing on the little things I could do.
“I spent seven and a half weeks in the hospital in total and got home just before Christmas.”
He said he now finds it difficult to play the sports he took for granted because he is “not perfectly aligned”.
“The race is the part that makes me really nervous,” he said. “I know I can do it on my own, but not after swimming and cycling.
“I will do everything to recover, but I know there may be a limit to where I can go.”
Mr McLaughlin, who competed in his youth, competed at the World Triathlon Championships in Lausanne the year before his stroke, finishing 24th in his age category and fourth Briton.
He started a gradual return to work – as a project manager at AWE – in March and said his business has been “fantastic supporting me”.
If you would like to sponsor Mr. McLaughlin, visit his fundraising page at https://gofund.me/05374bfd