How Alasdair went from wheelchair training to track PB

Thursday 26th December 2019

Photo by Bobby Gavin

By Katy Barden

Success is so often determined by performance, but after a lengthy period of illness, getting back to the start line was a victory in itself for Cumbernauld AAC athlete Alasdair McMonagle.

The 17-year old finished second in the 2017 West District Championships 800m (2:08.93) – an OK performance by his own admission – but had no idea it would be his last competitive track race for more than 18 months.

Soon after, McMonagle’s dad called his son’s coach, Stephen Wallace, to say Alasdair wouldn’t be training. He had a migraine and wasn’t feeling up to it.

It was a situation that quickly spiralled out of control. The initial symptoms developed into a viral infection of the neural nervous system which resulted in significant pain and chronic fatigue.

Alasdair was exhausted, sleeping for up to 17 hours at a time. He was starting to lose muscle mass through lack of mobility and his ability to speak was compromised by the debilitating symptoms of the condition.

‘I felt extremely hopeless about my life,’ admits McMonagle.

‘I was starting to accept that things could be coming to an end. Every day was convincingly worse than the prior and my ability to cope was being stretched to breaking point.’

Perhaps most challenging and frustrating of all was that medical experts were unable to accurately diagnose what was happening and treat him accordingly.

The situation came to a head in November 2017 when McMonagle suffered a series of seizures.

‘His dad said they weren’t leaving the hospital until they could sort it out,’ remembers Wallace.

It worked, and once medical staff better understood his situation, he started to experience small but reassuring improvements.

McMonagle’s determination was fuelled by his experience at Red Star AC. Physically unable to walk, and with a condition not fully diagnosed, his parents took him to the club to experience wheelchair racing. It gave him the bug.

‘Red Star AC was one of the best things to happen to me at that point in my life,’ he recalls.

‘At first, I was very reluctant to go as I’d lost all of my social confidence after spending so long on my own, but Janice Eaglesham played a key role in motivating me to keep coming back over the first two months – I’ll never forget the kindness she showed me.

‘The club is amazing. I would highly recommend it to any athlete with a disability.’’

With his enthusiasm and potential evident, Cumbernauld AAC organised a fundraiser to buy a new racing chair for McMonagle.

It was a humbling experience for the young athlete as many local clubs and athletes supported the cause and raised in excess of £5500. With the right equipment, it made his transition to competing for Red Star much easier.

The story doesn’t end there though.

Inspirational stories . . . Alasdair makes headlines in the current PB edition alongside a piece on Katie Purves

In spite of ongoing, and at times severe pain, McMonagle wanted to test his resolve.

He’d been working with a team of physiotherapists at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital who gave him the confidence to believe he could get back on his feet, but that alone wasn’t enough. He wanted to run.

He opted for a low key indoor 200m in December 2018, but it was a significant turning point. Within minutes of finishing, he asked: ‘What’s next?’

An 800m specialist, McMonagle opened 2019 with 2:04.20 at the Scottish National Open Championships, before racing the Scottish National Under-17 Championships. He clocked 2:04.08 in his heat and eventually finished seventh in the final (2:09.91), by which point his condition had taken his toll. He was totally spent.

‘Stephen (coach) and I knew that the 800m, especially indoors, was going to be a big ask as lot of the features of running indoors were extremely taxing given the symptoms of my condition.

‘I did a solo time trial on 12 November and I crossed the line in 2:13 which was surprising. We did as much strength and endurance training as I could, and it all culminated in me achieving my goal of making the Scottish Championships indoor final.’

McMonagle has since gone from strength to strength, and in August 2019 he clocked a new 800m PB of 2:01.19 to finish sixth in the final of the Scottish U17 Championships.

‘This season I wanted to achieve SIAB selection,’ he says candidly.

‘I felt I had been robbed of selection previously because of my illness. However, in spite of my best efforts I wasn’t good enough on the day.

‘Overall though, as disappointing as it was, the season went so much better than Stephen and I could have predicted.’

McMonagle wasn’t sure he’d ever return to the start line, but the Cumbernauld athlete has reached and smashed that target.

He’s not the athlete he was before. He’s a better one.


Tags: Alasdair McMonagle, Cumbernauld AAC, Katy Barden

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