CrossFit is more than just a lifestyle for Liam Delahunty. CrossFit is his medicine.
Seven years ago, Delahunty, 35, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He refused to allow the condition—which affects the central nervous system—to prohibit him from doing anything, and now he wants other MS sufferers to see the benefits he has reaped from training at CrossFit Waterford in Ireland.
“Squatting is my medicine,” he said. “When I want to alleviate the tremors in my legs that I get sometimes due to my MS, I do some squats. A simple squat helped me massively. Now, I want to bring the benefits of exercise to the people who have MS.”
Last year, Delahunty decided to take on a series of physical challenges to raise money for MS Ireland, but finding somewhere to get in shape and, at the same time, be treated like everyone else, was not easy.
“I had approached gyms but they were a bit whiny and said they would take it easy on me because of my MS, but that’s not what I wanted at all,” he said. “There are people with MS who are fully capable of doing things.”
“I approached CrossFit Waterford and watched a workout—Fran—and went away thinking, ‘I can’t do that,’” he continued. “But the coach, Tom Dunphy, said, ‘You can do this.’ He told me there were no baby steps and I will do it as normal, which is what I was looking for.”
Delahunty said no one mentions his MS at the gym.
“No one treats me differently. I am just another person in there doing CrossFit,” he said. “Within a week, I was in love with it. I can honestly say I will never go to a conventional gym again.”
Dunphy, owner of CrossFit Waterford, said Delahunty was like any other new CrossFit athlete.
“As far as I was concerned, he was an able-bodied man,” he said. “I didn’t see any need to baby him at all. He was as capable as anyone else. Everyone starts the same—Chris Spealler and Mikko Salo had to start at the same stage.”
Delahunty, an ambassador for MS Ireland, was diagnosed at age 27 after he developed a persistent twitch in his eyelid. A general practitioner said it was probably a trapped nerve and suggested botox to stiffen the nerve.
When he went for the treatment, he started rubbing his knee.
“The doctor saw this and asked me about it,” Delahunty said. “When I said I was getting pins and needles, he stopped straight away.”
He was then sent for an MRI scan and lumbar puncture. The tests revealed MS.
“I have remitting-relaxing MS. It comes and goes,” he explained. “I can go three months without any symptoms and then have to be in bed for a week.”
Now, after joining CrossFit Waterford last summer, he is about to take part in his first Open.
“I’m nervous, but it is exciting in a way,” he said. “I know I am not going to break any records, but I am really looking forward to it.”
“It doesn’t matter if you are going to qualify or not, but you set yourself a goal and you are going to achieve it,” he added.
The Open is just part of the challenges Delahunty, a sales manager for a seafood company, has set for himself.
“I am doing 24 adventure races in 18 months,” he said. “I did five last year. The adventure races were a huge goal. Without CrossFit, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
Adventure races cover a large distance. Delahunty’s longest one this year will be 600 km over five days in August.
He also has organized a challenge series called Run With Liam, the goal to raise money for MS Ireland and prove to other MS sufferers that the condition shouldn’t hold them back.
“Try a simple squat at home and it will alleviate tremors,” he said. “Some people feel uncomfortable going to a conventional gym. CrossFit is for everybody. Exercise is for everybody.”
The father of four wakes up at 5:30 a.m. every day to get to CrossFit Waterford before work.
Delahunty said the progress he has seen in the past six months motivates him.
“I have met great friends doing CrossFit,” he said. “CrossFit is a way of life for me now.”
Dunphy has no doubt Delahunty will do well in the Open.
“I think he will be great,” Dunphy said. “There will be some challenging movements, as there are for everybody in their first Open. I think he is going to have fun and that is the main thing.”
“I love the guy,” he added. “His attitude is, ‘I have MS. So what?’ He just gets in there and does it. He is an inspiration to us all here.”
Click here to sponsor Delahunty or learn more about his Run With Liam challenge series.