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“I’m going to keep fighting. Keep ticking away” – Gardiner on cancer battle

The Irish Olympian has been diagnosed with terminal cancer but is trying to stay as positive as possible.

Damian Gardiner represented Ireland in the 1996 Olympics.
Damian Gardiner represented Ireland in the 1996 Olympics.
Image: Jenny Carbonari and Damian Gardiner.

“WE WANT TO keep people happy here,” remarks Damian Gardiner as the cancer talk turns technical.

“I’m top of the world, that’s how I’m doing right now.”

The Mayo native spoke to TheScore.ie from his home in San Diego, California. Two days previously, Gardiner was competing in a showjumping event. Back in April, he was informed that he had Stage 4 cancer of the oesophagus. Radiation therapy failed to reduce the size and spread of the cancer. The metastasis [growth] has also ruled out an operation.

The only option remaining, reasons the 43-year-old, is to live his life to the full over the coming weeks, months and, hopefully, years.

Gardiner represented Ireland at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, competing on a four-person team that finished eighth overall. He has carved out a successful showjumping career in the United States and has been living California for more than two decades.

Partner Jenny Carbonari told TheScore.ie, “At the start, I was in total shock. He went through the radiation treatments to reduce the size [of the cancer] and lost a bunch of weight.”

She added, “He’s going through a good spell at the moment; joking, having fun. He’s such a jovial, jolly person. He’s getting along to horse shows. He gets along to the shows with me, the young students he is coaching and catches up with friends.”

Gardiner, originally from Crossmolina, met Carbnonari five years ago at a horse training clinic in Montana. “I fell in love with her and that was that,” he says, before adding, “She’s the one that’s keeping me alive.” The Irish Olympian also pays credit to his teenage children, Ciara and Damien, for giving him strength and his typically large Irish family, which includes mother ‘Bernie’.

Carbonari and Gardiner at a showjumping event in San Diego.

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Gardiner told TheScore.ie that a visit to the doctor, two months after a fall in competition, revealed that struggles to swallow and breath were not solely due to a broken rib but to a cancer that has taken a deadly hold. However, as he reminded us by phone, he wishes to focus on the positives.

They include 175 Grand Prix victories, a win upon his horse Arthos at the California GP at The Showpark [two clear rounds], the Classic at the Derby in Spruce Meadows and his Olympic call-up 17 years ago. Can you remember where you were, we ask him, when Team Ireland came calling? He replied:

Shit yeah. I had just won a Grand Prix in Colorado when I got the phone-call asking if I was ready to go to the games. ‘The Olympic Games?’ I asked. They replied ‘yes’ and I said ‘Oh yes’.”

With his preferred horse, Pinon Patriot, hurt 10 days before the Olympics, Gardiner and Arthos would be reunited. Teamed with Eddie Macken, Peter Charles and Jessica Kürten (née Chesney), Ireland finished eighth. The drama was not confined to the show jumping arena or the Olympic Stadium as a bomb exploded, on 27 July 1996, at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.

Gardiner said, “We stayed until the bomb went off and then it was time to go. Up until that point, the whole Olympics had been a wonderful experience. To compete with Eddie and Peter, who did a lot for me in my career in terms of coaching and help, and Jessica, that meant a lot to me.”

Looking too far ahead is not an option for the Mayo man. His immediate future is consumed with family, friends and work. The horses are never too far away.

“I’m coaching and riding as much as I can, given my situation,” he said. “I can’t hold back. I could lie in bed with this cancer and just pass out but I’m up all day, looking after the horses and training. I’m not going to lay back in my bed and give up. I’m going to keep fighting. Keep ticking away.”

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

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Patrick McCarry

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