Edinburgh-based soldier with Huntington’s Disease set for 54 mile charity trek as he eyes his 'bucket list'
Lance Corporal Shaun McKenna lives at Edinburgh recovery centre for military personnel
An inspirational soldier with a life-limiting condition, who lives at a military personnel recovery centre in Edinburgh, is preparing to trek 54 miles again to raise funds for other soldiers, veterans and their families as he works his way through his ‘bucket list’.
Lance Corporal Shaun McKenna, 32, who joined 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS) at the age of 17, will once again take part in ABF The Soldiers’ Charity’s Cateran Yomp in June. The gruelling event challenges teams of soldiers, veterans and civilians to walk 22, 36 or 54 miles across the rugged terrain of the Perthshire countryside in less than 24 hours.
LCpl McKenna, was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease just over a year ago and has been at the Scotland and Northern Ireland Personnel Recovery Centre (PRC) at Gilmerton on recovery duty since March, 2022.
He was deployed to Operations Herrick 10 and 15, the final phase of the UK’s combat operations in Afghanistan. He was also deployed to Cyprus on Operation TOSCA, the second-largest deployment of British Army personnel overseas, serving with United Nations peacekeeping Forces. His role within 3 SCOTS prior to being assigned to the PRC was within the Pipes and Drums Platoon as a physical training instructor.
LCpl McKenna lives at the PRC, attached to Erskine Edinburgh Home, the veterans’ care home in Gilmerton. He said: “I became a resident at the PRC as I had no suitable accommodation due to my illness and decline in cognitive ability. However, I keep incredibly busy and take part in the Vocational Activity Programme run by Andy Smith, himself a veteran, who is our training and liaison officer. I really enjoy mountain biking, so we enjoy trails in the Edinburgh area, walks in the Pentlands, archery, cultural visits such as the Wallace Monument, fishing and wall climbing. Being competitive by nature and with a keen interest in history, I love all these activities.
"In the PRC, I have loads of company through courses, military and Erskine staff, visits from friends, family, and my previous unit. If I had stayed at home, I wouldn’t have had the chance to enjoy all these activities or to have the company I enjoy which would undoubtedly have led to a decline in my mental health.”
In addition to the Cateran Yomp 2022, inspirational LCpl McKenna has also completed the Washington Marine Corps Marathon 2022 for the Allied Forces Foundation. As part of his ‘bucket list’, he also plans to visit the Mayan temples in Mexico, the pyramids in Egypt and to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro.
LCpl McKenna said: “Last year, I took part in my first ever Cateran Yomp with my personnel recovery officer Capt. Morven Sayer and a small unit team. My goal was to reach gold, the full 54-mile route, as fast as I could. I was delighted to achieve this in 20 hours. To me, it shows what can be done despite my illness and the future I face.
"Raising money for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity makes me exceptionally proud. I wanted to join the army from a young age, am still a serving soldier and am acutely aware of the work the charity does to support the army’s serving and veteran community. I have no doubt that if I needed their support in the future, they would be there for me. I’m gearing up for June, once again going for gold and hope to do as many Yomps as possible in the future.”
Huntington's disease is a life-limiting condition that gradually stops parts of the brain from working properly. Inherited from a parent, the degenerative condition is usually fatal after a period of up to 20 years.
LCpl McKenna, who grew up on the Isle of Skye, Fort William and Perth, said: “When I first fell ill, I was forgetting parades and making mistakes I had never made before. I wasn’t performing to the high standards my unit was used to and, being the unit physical training instructor, was physically fit, but my memory was declining. My unit recognised there was an issue and asked me to seek medical advice. In January 2022, I was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease.”
You can support the ABF The Soldier’s Charity’s Cateran Yomp, which last year raised just over £500,000 for soldiers, veterans and their families, with 630 participants travelling from as far as the USA, Canada, Australia, Cyprus, Poland and the Netherlands.