Rob O'Brien from Ireland beneath a volcano
“I have come to realise that it’s important not to sweat over the small stuff,” says Rob O’ Brien of his attitude to life as a cancer survivor. “I have learned to cherish family, friends and moments, and to try and live ‘in the day’”.
The 47-year-old father of two, from Cork in Ireland, sees his recovery from a brain tumour in 1999 as a second kick at the metaphorical ball. Not only has he seized that opportunity, running marathons and ultramarathons in a kind of extreme celebration of life, he’s also dedicating a great deal of his seemingly boundless energy to helping others.
Rob, who works as an administrator for a recycling company in Cork, will be his country’s sole representative in the Atacama Crossing 2009 – his first ever 4 Deserts event. He’s a veteran of the
“When I first saw a documentary on the Atacama Crossing, I was amazed by the terrain, the extreme event and, in particular, the camaraderie of the competitors,” he says. “It seemed like an amazing challenge and I knew almost immediately that I was going to participate in this crazy race one day.
“I feel nervous and excited that this day is coming soon,” he continues. “Hopefully I can arrive in the Atacama injury free and in a nice space in my mind. That’s not always easy with all the training and preparation involved, as I’m sure every participant knows.”
Although he’d played soccer and Gaelic football at school, by the time he’d hit his thirties Rob had developed, by his own admission, “a very relaxed attitude” towards sport. And there was the need to recover from that brain tumour too. But when his cousin Warren O’ Brien was killed in a mountaineering accident in 2001, it marked the start of a new chapter for Rob. Before he died, Warren had been training for the 2002 Dublin Marathon and Rob decided to run the event in his memory, raising funds for his cousin’s chosen charities.
Bitten hard by the running bug after that first marathon, Rob has never looked back. He continues to raise money for good causes, his experience as a cancer patient highlighting how much charities and hospitals rely on public support.
During the Atacama Crossing, Rob will be raising funds for the Build4Life charity, which helps people with cystic fibrosis.
“Ireland currently has the highest rate of CF sufferers in the world, which is astonishing” he says. “Being given the opportunity to raise vital funding for the charity will be a big encouragement to me during the tough, low points of the race.
“I've made wonderful friends through running and have experienced life changing events while participating,” adds Rob. “To take part in the Atacama Crossing 2009 will be the icing on this particular cake!”