I have a heart condition but it’s not the end of the world!-by Gem O’Reilly

Since being diagnosed with my heart condition at 16 years old, I’ve been trying to understand my body, to understand my limitations and capabilities. 

That has stemmed into my life in many ways, particularly when it comes to challenging my body and perceptions of what makes a healthy lifestyle. 

It has led to me running long distance in a way that is monitored, controlled and measured. 

Now for the first time, I’ve been signed off to run long distance competitively. Which is why I’m using this opportunity to raise awareness about undiagnosed heart conditions and talk about my journey. 

This process has involved ten years of training in long distance running, resulting in me having a resting heart rate of around 45 beats per minute, which according to professionals, is an athletic pace.

When I was first diagnosed it felt like my world caved in. My condition has many caveats that I have to be aware of such as the dangers of normal prescription drugs and sports such as swimming and high impact activities. To be told you’re at risk of cardiac arrest is daunting but the thought of not knowing I am at risk is terrifying.

I have an inherited condition called Long QT syndrome which is an electrical fault within my heart. This means that my heart takes longer to recover in between beats, meaning that if my heart contracts before it’s recovered from the previous beat, I could be at risk of collapsing or even sudden death.

Being diagnosed with a heart condition however, is not the end of the world. I feel it allows me to live my life in full knowledge of my potential and my limitations. That knowledge I’ll be forever grateful for, as I know many families who didn’t know and sadly had fatal outcomes from undiagnosed heart conditions. 

It should not take a tragedy to realise our vulnerabilities. In knowledge of such weaknesses, we gain strength. 

I want others to be confident in their own skin and surpass expectations, while being aware of underlying conditions in sport, whatever sport that may be.

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