Last year, fit and only 30, Bulli nurse Sharn McNeill had put just one item on her bucket list – to complete an ironman event. Then she was struck down by motor neurone disease.
But while a rare, aggressive form of the debilitating neurological disease has caused her movement and speech to slow down, it hasn’t put a stop to her long-term dream.
Thanks to the help of great mate, Bulli paramedic Craig Gruber, she will be able to tick that one item off her list in June when the pair team up for the Cairns ironman event.
Mr Gruber, 45, will wear a harness to pull her on a kayak on the 3.8-kilometre swim leg; he’ll push her in a wheelchair on the 42.2-kilometre run and her recumbent bicycle will be attached to his bike during the 180-kilometre ride.
For Ms McNeill, who completed a half ironman event before her July 2013 diagnosis, it’s the best gift in the world.
'When you’re faced with something like this you have a choice on how to respond – I chose positivity'
‘‘I don’t know how long I’ve got – the average life expectancy for this type of MND is between two and five years,’’ she said. ‘‘If I’ve only got those years left, I want to have the best life I can have.
‘‘I only ever had one item on my bucket list but after my diagnosis I didn’t think I’d be able to do it.
‘‘When Craig said he wanted to help me achieve my dreams and get that ironman medal, we just cried and hugged. It’s a dream come true.’’
Friends and family have rallied around Ms McNeill since she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, setting up a committee Shining4Sharn to raise funds for treatment and equipment.
She credits that support for helping her come to terms with the disease which is gradually causing the muscles that enable her to move around, speak, swallow and breathe, to weaken and waste. Good nutrition, exercise and a positive outlook have also helped.
‘‘When you’re faced with something like this you have a choice on how to respond – I chose positivity,’’ she said. ‘‘I’ve slowed down and had to give up work but I’m focusing on what I have – a wonderful husband, loving family and amazing friends.’’
Mr Gruber, who works with Ms McNeill’s husband Russ, may be taking on a huge physical challenge but he remains in awe of her mental strength.
‘‘To take this race on is very courageous on Sharn’s behalf, it’s going to be a gruelling day,’’ he said.
‘‘Imagine being out in an ocean in a kayak and not being able to swim – the courage that takes and the trust that she is putting in me is amazing.’’
The pair are training hard for the main event on June 8.
‘‘My bike will be coupled to Craig’s but I’ll still be able to pedal, and I’ll wheel the wheelchair as much as I can,’’ Ms McNeill said. ‘‘I hope to be able to get out of the wheelchair and walk the last 100 metres to the finish line.
‘‘That will be amazing.’’