Saval coach scales new heights in fundraising drive

Peter Bayne


Peter Bayne


Friday 22 May 2020 7:03

DAMIEN Hillen had a personal mountain to climb while recovering from major heart surgery a year ago.

Now he’s scaling the tallest peak in the world, five steps at a time, to raise money for NI Chest Heart & Stroke.

Damien’s medical condition means he cannot afford to risk catching coronavirus, so he is having to complete his Everest Challenge using five steps in his back garden. To the top of the mountain and back down is 116,096 steps, which he aims to have completed by the end of May.

To show support, members of Saval Gaelic Athletic Club, where Damien is a coach, are also striding out on the roads near their homes. By adding all their steps together, they are hoping to circumnavigate the globe by the time he finishes his challenge.

Damien said: “I’ve had some complications since undergoing surgery for an aortic aneurysm and to fit a mechanical valve to my heart, so I’ve been setting myself challenges for my physical and mental health. When lockdown came, I had the idea of climbing Everest using the five steps in the garden. My father has taken part in a great rehabilitation and support programme operated by NI Chest Heart & Stroke since suffering a stroke three years ago, so I decided to raise money for the charity. Other members of the club, led by Jimmy McAloon, decided to support me and boost their own mental health, and it’s just snowballed from there. We now have about 350 people aiming to circumnavigate the world by the end of May, just as I’m finishing my ascent and descent of Everest.”

Damien is on course to finish his challenge by the end of the month if he manages to complete 2,500 steps every day. The club has raised £8,600 of the £10,000 fundraising target for NI Chest Heart & Stroke and for the development of Saval’s community walkway.

“I’d love to be able to reach the target by the 31st of May,” he said. “Everyone who has donated has been so generous at a very difficult time. If anyone wants to help, they can visit the JustGiving page at”

Marianne Beggs, NI Chest Heart & Stroke’s Community Fundraising Manager, said: “We’re delighted that Damien has chosen us to benefit from his superb fundraising effort. It means that we’ll be able to assist the recovery of other people who’ve suffered a stroke or who have heart problems. It’s of particular help at a time when all charities are seeing a dramatic fall in their fundraising because of the coronavirus emergency.”

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