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'Gavin truly was amazing' - Northern Ireland man launching gruelling fundraiser for best friend

Talented and hugely popular language teacher Gavin McNaney from Armagh died aged just 37 after suffering leukaemia, and now his best friend is launching a gruelling fundraising effort in his memory. Karl McQuaid (38), who lives with his wife Ciara and children Anna and Tom in Martinstown, Co Antrim, tells Stephanie Bell about the loss of his 'genius, brilliant' friend

A gifted language teacher from Armagh who died last year after a short battle with leukaemia is to be honoured by one of his best friends in a strenuous fundraiser next month.

Father-of-two Karl McQuaid, a language teacher at Sperrin Integrated College in Magherafelt, will run 5km every day during August to raise funds for Leukaemia and Lymphoma NI as a tribute to his friend Gavin McNaney, who also taught languages.

The 38-year-old plans to complete 31 back-to-back runs to culminate in Gavin's home town of Armagh where some of his pal's former pupils and friends will join Karl for the final leg.

There has been an outpouring of love for Gavin since Karl announced plans for his fundraiser recently.

Within five days of launching his appeal on JustGiving, his £2,000 fundraising target had been exceeded and he was inundated with people offering to join him on his final run.

Karl says: "People have been brilliant. I thought £2,000 was a good target but in just five days people have donated more than that which is just incredible. Every penny raised will go to leukaemia research.

"It is because Gavin was so popular and so well loved that there has been such a huge response.

"I've had past pupils of his and even people going back to our school days messaging me to say they would like to support it and hopefully join me for the final run in Armagh when Gavin's parents also hope to be there."

Gavin, who was just 37 when he passed away in November last year, had been diagnosed nine months earlier with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

He had a bone marrow transplant in London last summer which was deemed a success.

He and his doctors thought he had beaten the cancer when tragically he caught the common cold which led to a lung infection.

His immune system was so weak after the surgery and treatment that he couldn't fight the infection.

Gavin had been living and teaching in Dubai for just over a year before he took ill as head of languages at GEMS Metropole School.

Before that he taught languages at St Catherine's College in Armagh for three years.

Such was the esteem in which he was held there that pupils from the school formed a guard of honour at his funeral and the school choir performed at the church service. Also, pupils and staff at GEMS Metropole School staged a memorial in Dubai on the day of his funeral.

A representative of the school also travelled to Armagh to be at the funeral.

The school has since launched the Gavin McNaney Award in his memory to be given to the pupil who demonstrates the most outstanding linguistic progress of the year.

Gavin was the only child of Pat and Nuala McNaney from Armagh.

As well as being gifted at languages - he spoke fluent French, Irish, Portuguese and Spanish - he also had a love of travel.

Since graduating from the University of Ulster with a BA Degree in French and Spanish, Gavin spent a few years travelling to different parts of Europe, the Middle East and South America.

He had been indulging his love of travel in February of last year when he first took ill.

His friend Karl says it was typical of his strength of character that, when he was diagnosed with leukaemia, he kept it to himself until he knew exactly what he was dealing with.

Karl, who lives in Martinstown in Co Antrim, is married to Ciara (37) and has two children, Anna (20 months) and Tom (five months).

He recalls: "Gavin was in Goa in India during a school holiday last February when he first started to feel ill.

"He thought he had maybe caught a bug in India and shortly after returning to Dubai he went to the doctor. He had tests and was shocked to be told he had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

"It is a testament to his strength of character and unwillingness to cause concern to his family and friends that he began his journey with illness alone.

"He organised his affairs in Dubai and made the long trip to the City Hospital in Belfast before breaking the news to his parents.

"Most of us would be telling people because we would want the sympathy but Gavin kept it to himself.

"He had no idea throughout his illness that he would die and he had left all his belongings in Dubai because he believed he would be back there. In fact his parents only recently got them back."

Gavin spent three months in hospital and, throughout his treatment, Karl says he never complained but remained positive and smiled throughout it.

He responded well to his treatment and to a bone marrow transplant in London in the summer of last year.

However, just when he had returned home and everyone thought he had beaten it, in another tragic twist of fate he caught a cold.

This quickly developed into a lung infection and because his body was still very weak from his surgery he hadn't the strength to fight it.

Karl says: "He thought he had it beaten and everything was very positive. He was home and actually doing really well.

"His immune system was suppressed because of the treatment and the bone marrow transplant. That was a tough surgery but it worked and he was getting over it. He caught a common cold and then he got a lung infection and had to be put into an induced coma. Apparently his lungs were only working at 8%. In the end it wasn't leukaemia that beat him, but the common cold. He was one of the strongest and fittest guys I know.

"He was at the gym at least five times every week and was so passionate about keeping fit that even in hospital he lifted weights and used the exercise bike daily.

"He was an avid MMA supporter and had a blue belt in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu.

"Its heartbreaking that because his immune system was so low that someone who was always so fit and healthy hadn't the strength to fight the common cold.

"His friends and family really appreciate all the work by the staff in Ward C10 of Belfast City Hospital and the Intensive Care Unit."

Karl says he discussed raising money for leukaemia research with his friend when he was in hospital.

Gavin thought it was a great idea but neither of them thought for one minute that he would be doing it in Gavin's memory.

Karl started park runs just 18 months ago and since then has completed a total of 30 5km runs. He now plans to do 31 in just 31 days.

He knows it will be tough but with so much support he is determined to finish every race.

"I'm not a typical runner, but I've been training and I plan to run all of them but I can't promise. There is a chance I might end up walking some of them," he says.

"When I discussed the idea with Gavin he thought it was great but I never thought I would be doing it after he passed away.

"To him and me both it just wasn't an option that he wouldn't pull through.

"I'm doing it for Gavin and for research and lots of people have been in touch with me through Facebook saying they would like to join me on the final race in Armagh. I've been contacted by people who haven't seen him since we were at school in our teens and also some of the young people he taught.

"It just shows you how popular he was."

Karl says he still hasn't come to terms with his friend's loss at such a young age. He will carry him in his heart as he pounds the roads in tribute to him.

He adds: "It is often said at times like these how truly amazing an individual was - but Gavin McNaney was truly amazing.

"I really miss him. Even though months might have passed before we got together, we always kept in touch through social media and WhatsApp.

"He is the only person I know who would have messaged me in three different languages.

"It is very hard to come to terms with and even now I find it unbelievable and still expect to hear from him.

"Just to accept that I won't ever hear from him again is hard to take.

"Gavin is sorely missed by his family and he had a large circle of friends.

"He was a true friend. I miss his wit, his stories, his wisdom, his linguistic genius, his 4am voice messages and his overall brilliance. I will never forget him."

You can support Karl in his bid to raise funds towards research into a cure for leukaemia at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/karl-mcquaid

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