On a backpacking holiday at 21 years old, a ridiculously good looking guy asked Galy O’Conner, ‘Why don’t you come climb Mt Kenya with me?’
Without the right shoes, clothing, or even a sleeping bag – somehow, she made it up there. She remembers following ‘this absolutely gorgeous-looking guy up the mountain’ and says ,‘That’s what motivated me, it wasn’t the mountain!’
The memories of that adventure lay in Galy’s mind for a few years before she decided to give climbing another crack – and ever since then, she’s been hooked.
Galy started working as a personal trainer with Virgin Active at the age of 48. She’d spent 15 years in IT and was in the need of something a little more active, and a little ‘more human’. After only 3 months, she had 45 clients under her belt, teaching everything from Spin, to PowerPlate, and her favourite, Virgin Active’s low-impact class, Young at Heart.
‘[It] started as a small group of women who were either over 45, pregnant, or had some sort of ailment and needed extra care. I took them on as mine. We became this amazing community and I put a lot of emotion into it.’
The now altitude-climbing fanatic headed off to the Himalayas to tackle the Bhutan Snowman trek, but this time around at about 3000 metres, she got into some deep trouble. Galy suffered high-altitude cerebral edemas, causing her to pass out and be pronounced dead on the mountain. But a very much alive Galy woke up and made her way out of the mountains on foot. As soon she again reached altitude she felt ok.
So that was that.
However less than 6 months later, Galy discovered a lump in her groin.
‘My tummy was getting a little rounder, but I thought at the age of 50 you can have a rounder tummy that’s ok. I was fit. I was exercising.'
Later Galy was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma - a very rare form of asbestos poisoning that she contracted working in a factory at the age of 13. Despite undergoing 15 major surgeries in the last 5 years plus Chemo, Galy’s illness has never held her back.
Galy began taking the Heart Foundation’s Heartmoves exercise classes and suddenly there was music in the cancer ward. She never skipped out on her fitness - even running away from hospital to complete a Nordic Walking training course when the nurses thought she was out to coffee.
Her on-going battle has shown just how inspiring and loved she is by everyone at Virgin Active and beyond.
‘Galy is Young at Heart’s inspiration. The love of our lives. [She is] why I’m still here, even without her.’ Jill Lord – member of Virgin Active Frenchs Forest.
Galy is now on the waitlist for her 16th major operation after doctors recently found mesothelioma on her liver. At the time of writing this article it is not known when Galy will receive her operation. She has been campaigning hard to receive life-saving surgery ASAP and has over 75,000 petition signatures in support of her fight. You can find out more about Galy's story at www.change.org/savegaly
‘They’ve said it’s an impossible mission. This operation is huge. I’m doing everything I need to stay fit and strong. I know it’s going to keep me alive. I’ve got the most beautiful husband anyone could ever dream of, six kids, and a dog.’
Galy still has the dream to come back and teach Young at Heart, and says without her fitness there’s no way she would have survived to tell the tale.
‘Without the fitness I would not be here. I have a gruelling system I keep no matter what. I do spin religiously. I work out 5 days a week, and walk the dog.’
‘I believe anyone who’s ill in any way needs to rest, but on the other hand needs to keep fit. Even if you just sit there and [lift your arm] you’re doing something. You’re already much better. It’s all about your blood circulating [and] when you work out, your mind is happier. Sad comes on its own, we like to keep happy.’
Following her life-saving operation, Galy’s plan is amazingly to go back to the mountain that nearly killed her.
‘My husband and I would like to go together. [The plan is] to stay fit, stay vibrant, pursue my dreams, and don’t let anyone tell me that it’s the end. I also want to have lots of grandchildren. And I want to live - it’s fun.’