Warwick dad’s desert challenge

Warwick electrician Carey O’Neill is in training for the toughest race on earth. And it’s all for the love of his daughter Lily - and his own indomitable sense of adventure.

Carey O'Neill with his daughter Lily 13 and wife Mandy. NNL-150322-134429009
Carey O'Neill with his daughter Lily 13 and wife Mandy. NNL-150322-134429009

Carey, aged 48, is about to trek 156 miles through the Sahara desert during the infamous Marathon des Sables race in Morocco.

He admits: “My wife Mandy and son Charlie as well as Lily herself all think I’m completely mad. But this latest challenge is just something I want to do for myself as well as to raise money for the heart unit at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.”

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It was at the children’s hospital that Lily, now aged 13, had her first heart operation at the age of one.

Later this year the Aylesford School pupil, who was born with five holes in her heart, is due to have more surgery to implant enlarged patches plus a titanum valve that should keep her breathing comfortably until the age of 20.

It’s only then that the dedicated One Direction fan, expects to go back into hospital for what the whole family hope will be her final operation.

By that time Carey expects to have raised thousands of pounds towards the heart unit, where over the years he and Mandy have got to know several parents of sick children, some of whom have not been a lucky as Lily.

The family lives in Farzens Avenue, Chase Meadow, and this Sunday (March 29) they will be involved in a supermarket bag pack at Tesco in Warwick to help with fundraising.

But the money ex-RAF man Carey will pay to the organisers of Marathon des Sables - an event which is welcomed by the King of Morocco as it brings 1,000 people to the country - will come entirely from his own personal funds.

“They call it the millionnaires’ race because as well as being the equivalent of six marathons you have to pay £6,000 just to enter it,” explains Carey.

“But the £6,000 is our own money because this is my challenge. Any sponsorship I can raise will go directly to the heart unit at the hospital.”

Carey will be among 125 Brits among the 1,000-strong international group of hikers. Anyone who is interested in supporting his efforts might like to know he will be walking in 120 degree heat for much of the time, carrying his own tent and food rations on his back.

The longest stage of what is generally regarded as the toughest race on earth will be a mean 57 miles in one day!

Anyone who would like to find out more about Carey’s slog through the sands, can visit his page on the just giving website or chat to him in the more moderate temperatures of Tesco on Sunday.