DONEGAL pensioner Desmond Campbell is a marathon man who has travelled miles and miles – many of them by foot, some of them by bike and quite a few of them while virtually standing still. During the course of his travels, he has helped people in extraordinary ways.
Campbell, 76, grew up in Ardara but moved to Chicago in early 1964 and took a job as a lift operator working the overnight shift at the Palmer House Hotel.
Campbell was soon shuttling political types and their bodyguards up the freight elevator to the private clubs on the top floors and, as the years passed, he built relationships.
The longer the ride up and down an elevator, or the longer the wait in the lobby for one, the more opportunity he had to chat.
In 1978, Campbell was working in the lobby when a young man walked in and said that his wife had multiple sclerosis. The man told Campbell that he was riding his bike in the 100-mile National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Bike ‘N’ Hike to raise money for a cure for the disease. He wanted Campbell to sponsor him.
“His story touched my heart. I took a sponsor form and I started asking people in front of our 16 elevators if they would sponsor me. Most people knew me and liked me and gave me money.”
But Campbell felt guilty because he knew he wasn’t the one who was going to be riding the bike. So 10 days before the event, he got his own sponsor form and signed up to ride. Although he only completed 89 miles, he raised $1,100, the second highest amount of any participant.
The next year, he rode his bike again, raising $3,800. He participated two more years, raising thousands more.
In 1998 and 1999 he hiked the 155-mile Pilgrims’ Trail to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. For the two years, he said he raised another $38,500 on behalf of multiple sclerosis.
In 2001, he power-walked the Chicago Marathon on behalf of the Chicago Arthritis Foundation. He raised $17,305 and was the organisation’s highest fundraiser. The next year, he participated again and raised $11,000 for the foundation.
Although a bike injury would sideline Campbell for a couple of years, he returned to fundraising in 2005 power-walking the Chicago Marathon and raising thousands of dollars on behalf of a liver disease charity. Next, he hiked the Grand Canyon, raising $23,000 to fight leukemia and lymphoma.
And in 2008, one marathon in October wasn’t enough so he power-walked two within a couple of weeks of one another — one was in Chicago, the other in Dublin. The next year he did double duty again.
These days, Campbell, who never learned how to drive, is back home living in St Shanaghan House, Ardara, and he’s fund-raising.
“I’m walking 100 miles for Dublin’s Mater Hospital. The recent lockdown period drove me up the wall and when I saw this story on Facebook that the Mater were looking for individuals to take part in the challenge I jumped at the chance.
“Fund-raising was always my biggest passion during the Chicago years. I spoke to the organisers earlier today and they’re amazed how well I’m doing with the donations. In Chicago I was the top fund-raiser and it would be nice to keep that title in Ardara,” he said.
“It’s 100 mile in August 2020 and, as of now, I’ve reached 92 miles but I plan to forge ahead until August 31. I’ve been a fund-raiser all my life but this is my first time doing so in Ireland and I hope that it won’t be my last,” he added.
To donate use the website https://www.materfoundation.ie If you use 100 miles as a reference, it will be allocated to Desmond’s record.
Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere