Phillip Eaglesham back from the brink and focused on Rio glory
THE Paralympics will doubtless produce many stories of athletes who have battled to overcome adversity but Phillip Eaglesham’s journey from attempting suicide to competing on the world’s biggest stage is surely among the most remarkable.
A little over a year ago, the Dungannon man, who will represent Ireland in the shooting competition, attempted to take his own life after contracting a rare disease while on a tour of duty with the Royal Marines in 2011.
The 34-year-old managed to dodge bombs and bullets in Afghanistan, but he fell victim to Q Fever, a debilitating and incurable illness which left him in a wheelchair suffering from depression.
Now, though, he’s just glad to be in Rio and preparing to take part in the 10-metre standing and prone events after taking up the sport played a big role in turning his life around.
Eaglesham found that while his illness continued to deteriorate, his shooting scores continued to improve and the sport has also given his life an added dimension.
“Rather than just sitting in the house all day resting, I now feel normal and being able to take part in a sport gives me a sense of being a Marine again as it takes me back to who I was probably more than anything,” he said.
“The charity, Help for Heroes, has been at the forefront of helping me move my sport from a hobby to growing into a professional athlete.
“I’m so grateful for the support that they provide and the knowledge that there are genuine people out there who really want to help.
“It’s even down to thanking the people who put the pennies in the box. I see getting to the Paralympics as the best way to say thank you to everyone.
“Less than two years ago, I tried to take my own life. I’d just had enough of the deterioration and the impact it was having on my wife, the kids, and others around me. It’s difficult to talk about it, but it’s good to talk about it.”
The father of three young boys now lives in Taunton in Somerset with wife Julie, and the entire family will shortly be flying out to Brazil to cheer him on.
“Those three kids are the main reasons I tried to get to compete in Rio and I will be able to show them that, no matter what happens in life, you’ll be able to pick yourself up and dust yourself down and never give up,” he added.
“It’s been a hard slog these past five or six years, but the boys have been absolutely amazing and I’ll be really proud to have them watching on in Rio.”
Eaglesham arrived in Brazil last week and he’s already been soaking up the atmosphere in and around the athletes’ village and putting in some practice on the shooting range.
“We got to see some parts of Rio that were quite poor – shanty towns and the like – on what was a half-hour journey by bus but the countryside is beautiful.” he explained.
“When we got to the range which was like any other and it was quite surreal to think that, in a few days time, I’ll be competing there with a big crowd watching as I aim for a Paralympic medal.
“It was just a case of making sure everything was in working order and then doing some shooting which went quite well.
“We made a few adjustments due to the colouring and lighting on the range and then it was back to the village.
“I’m still really excited at the whole experience and the village is beginning to fill up, day by day, which adds to the sense of anticipation.
“I’m determined to make the most of it and I’m aiming for a medal, preferably gold because, with so little known about the illness, I simply don’t know what the prognosis is.”