Letterkenny’s John Wilkie is about to have an unforgettable 2023.
In the year of his 60th birthday, he is setting out on a Kilimanjaro expedition for Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.
John’s feat is even more impressive given that seven years ago he was in intensive care, paralysed with Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Just three years ago, he had a double hip replacement.
This year, after a remarkable recovery, John is proving “there’s life in the aul dog yet!”.
His charity challenge takes place in June and will take 10 days in total. Kilimanjaro is not only Africa’s tallest mountain standing at 5,896m, but it is also the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
John has overcome many personal mountains in the past few years, and this challenge is about celebrating what he can do for others.
“It’s in the giving that you receive,” John said.
John, a Sensei at Letterkenny Shotokan Karate Club, was caring in the community when he discovered the importance of Irish Guide Dogs. He was making inquiries for a client with sight loss when he met disability advocate Jennifer Doherty, who is blind from birth. Jennifer has done wonders in recent years in raising awareness of guide dogs and the independence they give to people with disabilities. The young Buncrana woman had a dream to climb to Mount Everest Base Camp, and last year, with the support of the Donegal Centre for Independent Living and mountaineer Jason Black, she did just that.
Jennifer’s achievements inspired John to reach for great heights too. He has also enlisted the help of Jason Black to train for his challenge.
“My sense of direction wouldn’t be the best,” John jokes. “The first day I was to meet Jason at Harvey’s Point I got lost!”
“We practised map reading orienteering and emergency situations, and he had put me in good stead.”
John’s training has also been of huge benefit to his mental well-being, he said. He has had a life ‘restart’, of sorts, since his health scare in 2015 and is also back studying health care with Donegal ETB.
“I can understand how important it is to get out and get your mental health checked. It was the karate that helped me. I had issues with my eyes and another scare with a lump, but I had the discipline of the mind and that helped me keep going. I keep going, keep smiling and keep focused.
“At the end of the day I’ve been a long time on the road. I’m 45 years in karate this year too.”
John chose to fundraise for the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind to support their work changing lives for people who are blind or visually impaired and families of children with autism. The average cost of training a dog is in the region of €53,000
John hopes his challenge will bring more awareness to the charity and highlight its constant need for funding. It costs €5million per year to run, with 85% of funding coming from fundraising and the generosity of the public.
Stay tuned to John’s Facebook for updates on his journey to Kilimanjaro and if you would like to donate, click here: https://kilimanjaro-2023.raisely.com/