Big Alan’s all heart

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EVERYONE of us has a charity which is close to our heart and Alan Simpson is no different.

This month marks the fifth anniversary of a life changing moment for the big BBC Radio Ulster presenter and he is marking it in a very special way as he explained to the Coleraine Times.

“I ended up missing Coleraine’s Irish Cup game on February 9th 2008 because I was in the Causeway Hospital after suffering a heart attack,” said Alan.

“I was annoyed to have missed the game, but thankfully I didn’t give Hugh Wade any over time!

“I have always wanted to do a challenge and raise money for charity and there’s no better charity than the British Heart Foundation.

“It is obviously something which is close to my heart, pardon the pun, given my history.

“This gives me the perfect opportunity to raise money for a great cause and in a small way thank all the tremendous staff at the hospital.

“The River Bann is like a big artery running up through Northern Ireland and my plan is to join it at Toome and Stand Up Paddle the whole way to the Old Bridge in Coleraine - the heart of the town.”

Living just yards away from the Atlantic Ocean on the north coast it’s no surprise Alan’s challenge involves the water. But what exactly is Stand Up Paddling?

“It’s an ancient form of surfing were you use a paddle while standing on a 9 foot 6 board to propel yourself along the water,” explained Alan.

“I first tried it a couple of years ago and have been hooked ever since.

“I have an unbelievable trainer in the great Al Mennie. He was the inspiration for me to do this following his Stand Up Paddle from Northern Ireland to Scotland last year.

“He is a supreme athlete and there’s no way I could do that distance, but I wanted a challenge and we came up with this one to paddle up the Bann.

“Ricky Robinson, who helped Al prepare for his challenge both physically and mentally, is also helping me out and he has been fantastic.

“Some people think you’re only standing on a plank of wood, but when you’re doing it for nine and a half hours, which is what we think it will take to complete the journey, you know all about it.

“There’s days when I finished and there are parts of me sore which I didn’t even know existed.

“Your hands get it really bad as you have to hold them above your heart for the paddle so the circulation is restricted and they are numb by the end of it. Your feet too because you’re standing in one position for so long it takes a while to get the feeling back in them.”

Alan has been training really hard over the last few months heading out into the Atlantic every morning. But he knows that the River Bann will offer a different set of challenges.

“Weather conditions haven’t been great of late so I’ve been restricted to doing laps of the harbour,” said Alan.

“Ricky has been very meticulous with my training schedule over the last couple of months. And last week I completed three hours on the river. It’s very different to the sea.

“The Bann is notorious for having a lot of currents in it. And given my size it’s like having a 6’5” sail on the board at times and you’re paddling away going nowhere.

“You always have a few spills when you’re paddling and believe it or not the river is a lot colder than the sea.

“So it’s going to be tough but I’m looking forward to it.

“We are heading out this week to plan our final route so that we take the easiest possible route.”

Alan’s big challenge on Saturday 23 February means he will miss another Coleraine game, but this time it’s for a good reason.

“Coleraine may not reach the cup final this year, but I’m determined to reach Coleraine no matter how long it takes me,” added the big man.

If you would like to donate to Alan’s fundraising efforts log on to