Daredevil dad goes from depths of despair to one of the highest peaks in the world

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A DETERMINED dad-of-three took on one of the biggest challenges of his life – climbing Kilimanjaro – and now he’s determined to reach even higher.

Paul O’Donnell is the driving force behind a bid to create a new sports complex in East Dunbartonshire to help people with mental health issues.

The 45-year-old recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro while enduring temperatures from a blistering 30 degrees centigrade at the bottom to -20 degrees at the top.

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Paul, from Bishopbriggs, was determined to go through the pain barrier as he himself has battled mental illness and wants to help others overcome their demons.

He is father to Ryan (17), Kyle (15) and Orla (10), and cites them as his main inspiration in life.

Paul said: “In eight days I experienced every weather type there is. The terrain was varied and challenging; rainforest, head-high heather, rocks, dust paths and so much more.

“I scaled sheer rock face walls and well-trodden paths.

“I climbed to heights of 4,500 metres and then back down to 3,900 metres all in one day, just to help me acclimatise.

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“My legs and lungs took one serious pounding! I used walking poles, my increasingly aching body and every bit of encouragement I received from my team mates just to keep going . . . and I am so glad I did.””

Paul managed to reach 5,000 metres when he was advised by the climb doctor to turn around or he would be risking his life.

“This was a major feat for me, reaching my own personal summit,” he said. “I’m lucky I got that far before collapsing. At such high altitudes, with the temperature variations, many don’t even get that far. In fact approximately just over 40 per cent reach the summit.

“I am 17 stones and looked a bit like a Yeti with my long hair and beard. The Africans were amazed seeing me. It’s not often they see a big ginger hairy man!

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“Our main goal was to raise funds for our big dream and that brought our total fundraising up to almost £10,000. We are very pleased with that.””

It might have been the end of that journey, but it was just another milestone along a path which Paul hopes will lead to a new sports ground and drop-in facility for people with mental health problems.

He explained: “We’re in the early stages of planning to build a brand new football pitch and sports centre which we hope to open by the end of 2015, but we need at least £250,000 to do it.”

The facility will also offer counselling and training for people with emotional issues. Exercise is a hugely positive factor when you’re struggling with mental health issues. When Paul became really ill, exercise was very important in his recovery.”

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Paul, who suffered a major breakdown several years ago, has started a trust to manage funds raised and realise his dream – the RKO Charitable Trust. It is partly dedicated to the memory of two very special friends from East Dunbartonshire, namely Billy Padda and John McCallum.

To learn more about how you can help, visit www.rkotrust.org.uk. You can also text a £2 donation by texting KILI45 £2 to 70070.

Paul is grateful to everyone who has contributed, especially pharmacist group M&D Green who covered the costs of his climb.

He said: “I feel elated and proud that I managed to do so much on the mountain and also feel very humble that so many people took the time to encourage me and donate money to the trust in my name because of this climb.”

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