As an extreme athlete who’s travelled to all seven continents, Gavan Hennigan knows a thing or two about difficult journeys.
But while the Irish adventurer may have rowed solo across the Atlantic, climbed high-altitude peaks in the Himalayas and hiked across frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia, it’s the road to self-acceptance that the 35-year-old has found the hardest to follow.
In Attitude’s August issue – available to download and in shops now – Gavan reveals how a the emotional scars of growing up gay in Galway in the late Nineties led him into a crippling cycle of low self-esteem and drug addiction which eventually led to a attempt to take his own life.
“I did go out now and again but a lot of my drug use took place in a fucking room”, he recalls. “That apartment that I lived in in Essex was a furniture-less apartment, and it was just a mattress on the ground.
“I didn’t have curtains, I just had the windows blacked out with black bags. I used to wake up and get stoned and then go back to sleep. Any money we got went on drugs; we thought, ‘Why would you buy furniture when you can buy drugs?”
He continues: “One of the reasons that I’d tried to kill myself was I really thought that I hated myself. When I lived in that little flat there was a mirror in the bathroom I used to literally head-butt every time I saw myself.
“And it was always like, ‘You’re useless, you’re a worthless piece of shit.’ And that’s all born out of low self-esteem.”
For Gavan, who completed his solo 3000-mile journey across the Atlantic in just 49 days at the beginning of the year – setting a new International Solo Row Course record and Irish Solo Atlantic Row Record in the process – change came when he decided to dedicate his life to pushing the very limits of human endurance.
“I discovered that there was so much stuff I wanted to do: I wanted to surf, I wanted to travel, I wanted to do all these amazing things, but I couldn’t because I was so constricted, so handicapped by low self-esteem” he explains.
“I like really testing myself and just seeing how tough I really am – how much can I put up with physically, how much can I put up with mentally.
“And that’s what the row represented to me when I first thought of it, I thought, ‘Well that’s scary because it’s so big and so long.’ Before I did it, it was something bigger than me. And then to be able to sort of conquer that in a way, to do that was hugely empowering.”
Photography: Leigh Keily
Fashion: Nick Byam
Creative Direction: Joseph Kocharian