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Ripley's days of desert trekking are over due to MS so now he has gone to the other extreme; Adventurer defies debilitating disease to swim around Ireland and inspire his fellow sufferers.

Byline: JILLY BEATTIE

LAURA Davenport ripped open the envelope that contained details of her family's future.

As her eyes tried to focus through rising panic on the words multiple sclerosis, the letter fell to the ground and Laura collapsed in tears.

Her super-fit husband Ripley, a world adventurer and motivational speaker, finally had a diagnosis for all the aches, tiredness and roaming symptoms he had been suffering, and it was nothing to do with his tough training regime.

Laura, 39, from Kenmare, Co Cork, said: "I just saw those words and I fell apart. Ripley had asked me to open the envelope from the hospital so we could be strong together but it didn't work that way.

"I'm originally from Lithuania and when I get really anxious I stop speaking English and revert to Lithuanian and that's what happened. That letter brought our world crashing down and we were very, very frightened.

"My brain seemed to go into shock.

All I could think was what are we going to do, what are we going to do?

"Ripley had been in the Royal Navy and we met in Denmark in 2005 in October. A month later we moved in together. We just knew straight away we wanted to be together and within two years we had two beautiful children, Scott and Stella.

"Ripley had left the Navy and we moved to Ireland for a new adventure, to meet new people and build a safe and healthy life with our children.

"We were astonished by the friendliness of people. In the eight years I'd lived in Copenhagen I don't remember any of the neighbours talking to each other.

"But on the day I was leaving my next-door neighbour came to me and wished me a happy life.

"When we reached Ireland things were very different, enforced privacy was a thing of the past and we loved it. Our neighbours were fun and helpful, happy and caring and they wanted us to be a part of their life and community. So we fitted in right away.

"Life seemed perfect and Ripley was able to continue with his passion for exploration and education.

"In 2010 he set off on his first solo haul across Mongolia from east to west and managed to haul his entire provisions weighing more than 240kg on a customised wheeled trailer more than 1,000 miles before injury brought the trek to an end.

"But he's a determined man and the following year he led the Gobi 2011 Expedition which took him another 1,000 miles across the Altai Mountains and Gobi Desert.

"This time he worked with an international team for two months and trekked a total of 1,136 miles in adverse conditions with 12 Bactrian camels and a Mongolian/Kazakh support crew.

"The symptoms continued through this arduous trek but it was a success and he came home tired but happy.

"His mental and physical recovery was slow. Few weeks later, one morning he wasn't able to get up. It was very frightening and even though Ripley is not a man who panics easily, he was frightened.

"Suddenly at 41, he was a dad of two and husband and he could see his world collapsing.

That attack left him temporarily paralysed and a decision was made to seek help.

"His vision kept blurring, he was getting pins and needles in his hands and feet but he remained convinced that it was all just part of the pressure he was putting his body through.

"He finally admitted completely what had been going on and explained how the symptoms were coming and going in the heat.

"We visited our GP and then were sent to a specialist and awaited the results.

"Our fears were concluded with a letter on the door mat which flipped our world upside down.

"For about a year we kept the diagnosis to ourselves and we worked hard at researching the condition and started to understand that our world had not ended but had started again from a different point.

"Ripley's biggest challenges had always been mental and physical and he decided this was just going to be e was fortuas Relapsing means the me in waves another life challenge. He nate that his diagnosis waAnd Remitting MS which symptoms and attacks comand last from a few minutes to 24 hours. They are debilitating but they lift and it's a guessing game as to whether they leave behind any damage.

Fortunately it was not progressive MS but it was enough for us to deal with and we decided that together we'd do everything we could to help other people with the diagnosis.

"It did though take us about a year to get our heads around the diagnosis but now we're motoring again and Ripley is training for a 850-mile around-Ireland swim in the summer.

"Ripley's job and life have changed now. His future lies in encouraging and inspiring everyone diagnosed with MS who need a positive message to help lift them out of their shock at diagnosis and the reality of living with this difficult condition.

"He visits schools and tells children all about his adventures and how to find out what motivates them and he has recently also been made Schools Ambassador for the MS Society of Ireland which he says is an absolute honour. After his diagnosis, he had to take a break from expeditions while we worked out what to do and how to go forward.

"But now he's been working hard planning his first 30-mile open water swim in May, a prelude to the swim around Ireland.

"It's a huge challenge that will take it out of him mentally, physically and emotionally and yes, I will be very worried about him.

"But this is Ripley's way of making a difference to other people with MS in particular and others who have life challenges.

"He will have a 5mm wetsuit and a thermal swim hat and mask because the temperatures are expected to be between 10C and 17C and he will be swimming up to 12 hours a day.

"This Round Ireland Adventure Swim will be his biggest challenge to date.

"He will even have to eat and drink while swimming every half hour or so to keep his body working.

"I hope that this swim will show everyone diagnosed with MS that there are possibilities in life, and while it's very tough, people have to find their own limits.

"Ripley's days of desert trekking are over because intense heat is apparently very bad for anyone with MS. So he has gone to the other extreme and he is plunging into the icy cold waters of Ireland.

"Ripley is from England and I am from Lithuania but in our hearts and our heads, we're Irish and will for ever feel Ireland is our home.

"We have learned how important our state of mind is and we do everything we can to stay focused and positive, including our diet and alternative therapies such as acupuncture.

"Ripley has had to learn to respect the condition and give time to heal after each attack of symptoms he suffers. He says, 'MS is part of me, not who I am.'

"I want to help inspire others by letting them know about Ripley and how he has managed through the toughest times and has come out the other side to help everyone he can."

jilly.beattie@trinitymirror.com

Ripley suffers but he says 'MS is part of me, not who I am' LAURA DAVENPORT wife yesterday I just saw the words multiple sclerosis and I fell apart LAURA DAVENPORT on diagnosis

CAPTION(S):

ready to go Ripley Davenport trains for new challenge

family man Ripley with Scott, Stella and Laura

TAKING THE LEAD Ripley in Gobi Desert in 2011

lone ranger Solo trek across Mongolia in 2010
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Apr 28, 2014
Words:1310
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