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Former Irish Olympian vows to fight on after terminal cancer diagnosis

Showjumper Damian Gardiner represented Ireland at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Jenny Carbonari with Damian Gardiner.
Jenny Carbonari with Damian Gardiner.
Image: Jenny Carbonari.

AN IRISH SHOW JUMPER that represented his country in showjumping at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 has ‘refused to lay back in my bed’ after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Damian Gardiner, who represented Ireland at the Olympics on his mount Arthos, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer of the oesophagus. Following extensive but futile radiation treatment, the Crossmolina native has passed up the option of chemotherapy so he can enjoy the coming months in the company of his friends and family at his San Diego, California home.

“Earlier this year, I was at an event and I fell from my horse,” he told TheScore.ie. “I was trapped underneath the horse after the fall and hurt my ribs. I couldn’t eat and food wouldn’t go down. It was after about two months that I went to a doctor [in April] to get it checked out.

They put a balloon in there and that’s how they found the cancer. In a way, I was partly lucky that the horse fell on me as, at least, because I found out quicker than I might have.”

Gardiner moved to California just under 20 years ago. He was supposed to stay for six months but, he says, fell in love with the western coast of America and ‘sunshine every day’. He forged a successful showjumping career for himself and has won 175 Grand Prix events at top venues across the world.

In 1996, with John Ledingham forced to pull out of the Summer Games, Colonel Ned Campion, who was chef d’equipe for the Irish showjumping team, was on the look-out for a suitable replacement.

Campion told TheScore.ie: “Damian had a good reputation of competing at a national level and came highly recommended by many people in the know in the States. He had also been back to Ireland to compete in events over the previous years.”

Gardiner with Arthos, the horse he rode at the Atlanta Olympics.

Gardiner, summoned from a Grand Prix event in Colorado, answered his country’s call and joined the Irish team of Eddie Macken, Peter Charles and Jessica Kürten (née Chesney). The Irish team finished eighth overall.

The 43-year-old has two teenage children and comes from a family of eight. He returns home at least six times a year and will welcome his mother Bernie and some of his six brothers to San Diego later this summer. His girlfriend, Jenny Carbonari, has established the Damian Gardiner Medical Fund on the GoFundMe website. The fundraiser goal, for treatments, consultations and a home caregiver, is $50,000.

Carbonari commented, “He has gone through most of the therapy and treatment he can go through. He just wants to live his life to the fullest.”

Gardiner’s sentiments mirror those of Carbonari and he has remained active in training showjumpers, preparing horses for upcoming events and continuing to ride and compete himself. The last event he competed in was on Saturday.

To find out more about Gardiner and the fundraiser campaign, you can visit the GoFundMe page here.

TheScore.ie will run a full interview with Damian Gardiner later this evening.

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Patrick McCarry

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