Conor’s a chip off the old block as he takes on Kilimanjaro charity climb
The name ‘Bannon’ is well known, indeed legendary, in Irish climbing circles. Terence ‘Banjo’ Bannon was the second Irishman to conquer Mount Everest, reaching the summit in 2003. He was the first person to be awarded the freedom of his native city of Newry, and a monument to his achievement, evoking the silhouette of a mountain, stands proudly outside the City Hall.
Banjo’s wife, Lauren O’Malley, whom he first met on the slopes of Everest, is also no stranger to adventure and extreme events, having completed the gruelling 156 mile Marathon des Sables in the blistering heat of the Sahara Desert in 2017.
Now though, there is a new kid on the block. The adventurous couple’s son Conor, has just turned 11 years of age, and in October, will become the youngest person from Northern Ireland to climb the 19340 feet to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Indeed he will become the youngest ever to scale the iconic mountain by the gruelling Lemosho or ‘Wild West’ route – where the final climb to the summit takes around 16 hours.
Adventure and a desire to challenge himself are clearly in Conor’s blood, and he is relishing conquering the daunting mountain. The young mountaineer also has his own health issues to take into account. The superfit 11 year old lives with Common Variable Immune Deficiency, which requires fortnightly blood infusions at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
With this in mind, Conor, a P6 pupil at Killean Primary School in Jonesborough, chose the NI Children’s Hospice to benefit from the ambitious challenge, which he will undertake in October with his mum Lauren, along with Newry fireman Barry Duffy and the world’s first ice Triathlete, Camlough man, Padraig Mallon.
Speaking to The Examiner about the charitable challenge, mum Lauren said Conor is relishing the climb and is “so excited to get started.”
“Conor is very driven and loves a challenge so as soon as I raised it as a possibility he was all for it,” said Lauren.
“We actually didn’t realise that he will officially be the youngest person to take on the Lemosho route but he has jumped at the chance to do it and he’s definitely ready and prepared for it,” says the mum-of-two who, along with husband Terence has instilled a life-long sense of adventure in Conor and his brother Rowan, travelling all over the world with their children to places like Vietnam and Borneo.
The family just returned from jungle trekking in Belize in April – an experience Lauren says will be useful for Conor in acclimatising to the hot temperatures over the first few days of his Kilimanjaro climb, before the temperature drops at higher altitudes.
“Conor’s done a lot of training in the mountains around Ireland and he knows the challenge he’s taking on. The one unknown for him and for all of us is the altitude,” explains Lauren.
“It’s one of those variables that you just have to go with it and see how you do,” says Lauren who adds that, “There is a method in my madness in choosing the longer route though as my hope is it will allow Conor and I more time to acclimatise to the altitude.”
Living with the boys’ condition has clearly not stopped the Bannon family from their travels and adventures and Lauren agrees that they have certainly challenged the whole mindset around living with a medical condition such as Common Variable Syndrome.
“We transferred to home treatments so we could travel with the boys and their treatments,” says the undaunted mum.
“We travel with medical supplies, pumps, blood product and everything the boys need. We just said from the very beginning that it wasn’t going to be an issue. Terence and I vowed we would make having the condition something that the kids normalised and it was never a barrier for them. I think it has paid off because it really hasn’t been a barrier for the boys and hasn’t stopped them embracing life and adventure.”
Lauren says she is delighted that her intrepid son will also get to spend time with fellow adventurers, Barry and Padraig – “people of the same mindset who’ve done and continue to do exceptional things and who believe that nothing is impossible.”
The Kilimanjaro challenge has been entirely self-funded by Lauren, Barry and Padraig so every penny raised will go to the NI Children’s Hospice.
“We are doing this entirely out of our own pockets, in such a small group and as basic as we can, so everything raised goes to NI Children’s Hospice.”
Conor and his climbing party will embark on the ambitious expedition on October 23rd, arriving to start the trek on October 25th. The team will be away for just under two weeks and will spend 8 days getting to the summit of the iconic mountain.
Commenting on behalf of the charity, Regional Fundraiser Johnny Breen said,
‘That a young man like Conor is undertaking to fundraise on behalf of the children who desperately need this help is wonderful. So many will benefit from Conor and his climbing teammates’ efforts, and we are more than grateful for their support.’
‘There will be plenty of opportunities for the people of the area to support Conor’s efforts, and details will be available in due course. It is important to note that all proceeds will be gong to Children’s Hospice – the climbers are all paying their own expenses.’
‘Conor has set up a Just Giving page at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Conor-Bannon19340 and all donations will of course be gratefully received and put to very good use helping children all over Northern Ireland who desperately need all of our support.’.