Conor O’Keeffe is ready to run 32 marathons in 32 days in 32 counties with 32 pounds on his back

He is putting an extra challenge on himself as he will start his feat with 32 pounds on his back, removing one pound each day. For Conor,  it symbolizes the weight of depression that has been lifted off his shoulders.

The 28-year-old from Glanmire has set himself a Herculean challenge.  The fact Conor, whose goal is to raise €100,000 for Pieta House, is starting his epic trek on April 1 shouldn’t for a minute make you think he isn’t serious.

The 6ft 3in athlete insists: “I want to discover what I am capable of. I want to do something huge.” Conor is a law graduate who, as a skilled Thai boxer, fought in front of 2,000 people in Neptune Stadium for an Irish title while still a student in UCC. He has never settled for half-measures.

“I know how to train to do that, to do something huge,” he says, “and now I want to go that extra mile. I might be mad in the head!” adds Conor, who climbed Kilimanjaro in his teens, with a smile.

It wasn’t that long ago that the young ultra-runner, ‘Enduroman’ champion, and supreme Thai boxer felt he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“I want to raise awareness around depression and raise awareness about the valuable services offered by Pieta House,” says Conor of his marathon attempt.

“When I lost my way and suffered from depression, I didn’t know where to turn. My life was a constant battle of ups and downs, huge highs and crashing lows.”

Things are different now. Depression no longer weighs Conor down. On each of the 32 days of his epic journey, he will shed one pound of weight from his back, signifying he is rid of the ‘Black Dog’ that used to snap at his heels.

Depression plagued Conor in his teens. His sporting prowess gave him only a temporary reprieve.

“School didn’t really suit me,” he reflects. “Even though I achieved good results when I repeated my Leaving Cert.

“I was a chubby kid and I didn’t really feel I belonged at school and I didn’t get on with the teachers. I always had an adventurous streak. I needed stimulation to get me out of trouble.”

He found that stimulation in a boxing club on Cork’s Northside, with the Siam Warriors, excelling at Muay Thai boxing. “It was a really big deal for me to come up the club’s ranks and get a shot at my first Irish title in 2013,” says Conor. However, a cyst was found on his brain and that put an end to his fighting career.

Since then, he has transformed as an ultra runner and in 2019 he won Enduroman 200, a 200 mile (324 kilometer) foot race. Conor was plagued by depression in previous years and lost his way after he left college. He was drinking and smoking, chasing women as a way to fill a part of him that was missing in his life.

Conor had lost all self-respect and it was through running he found his true self again, an ambitious and single-minded man with a determination to inspire and engage others. Conor is a passionate mental health advocate and has shared his own journey through public talks for corporations and charities.

His experiences allow him to enlighten others and his message resonates because audiences are gripped by this enthralling tale. The next leg is the most demanding and it will require him to push his body to new extremes.

posted Friday February 7th
by Emma Costello