Last May, Gavin Mason ran up 1100 steps in under 10 minutes, but two weeks later he was barely able to walk up one.
After finishing fourth in the annual Firefighter Sky Tower Stair Challenge in Auckland, the Queenstown Airport rescue fireman was hospital-ised with the rare autoimmune disease, Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
“I could still walk but I looked like I was a 75-year-old drunk person on a ship in heavy seas,” the 37-year-old, who’s competing again in next Saturday’s Stair Challenge, says.
With a background in competitive multisport and cycling, Mason says he first felt back pain, then prolonged weakness in his legs.
“Initially I thought I’d strained a muscle in my back and it was something nerve-related.”
As things got worse, he was diagnosed with a condition afflicting about one in 100,000 people, and rushed to Dunedin Hospital.
“I didn’t get on the internet and start reading about how potentially bad it is – I only listened to the specialists.
“I was fortunate that it affected me from the waist down. If it affects any other muscles, namely your breath-ing or your cardiac, that’s when you start having serious issues.”
Mason ended up spending only two weeks in hospital.
“I was off work for eight to 10 weeks max, and that realistically could have been six to 12 months.”
He says he and his family were very grateful for friends supporting them via a Givealittle page.
“We’ve made a point of helping support others who have helped us.”
Part of his rehab was taking ever-longer walks around his neighbourhood with his three-year-old, Grace.
Amazingly, Mason com-pleted the two-day Coast to Coast multisport event in February.
“That was probably the last decent blowout to get all systems firing again.”
Without putting a jinx on himself, he’s aiming for a top-10 finish again in this month’s Stair Challenge, which raises money for Leukemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand.
“It will be full circle in terms of going the full 12 months – [last year’s run] was like the last mark in the sand before I got what I had.”