Well loved Hastings man Brian McNeilly completes rowing challenge one-handed

Hastings man Brian McNeilly overcame his disabilities to smash a charity rowing challenge at the weekend.

Brian, a familiar figure on the local music scene, suffered a massive haemorrhagic stroke in 2018, at the age of 55, and wasn’t expected to survive. He pulled through but is now unable to use his left hand or arm and walks with the aid of a stick, due to severe difficulties with his left leg.

He decided to complete the 34km width of the English Channel on a rowing machine and has been training hard for over a year.

Brian took on the challenge on Saturday outside the London Trader pub at East Beach in the Old Town, cheered on by supporters, while international jazz star Liane Carroll, and others, provided live music.

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His wife Vanessa explained: “He wanted to complete the challenge in the Hastings community who sent love and kind thoughts to support us in the devastating first few months after his stroke.”

He raised more than £4,000 for two good causes - The Samaritans and Avanti-ABI, a St Leonards based acquired brain injury rehabilitation centre, which provides outstanding support for its clients. The £4,000 comes in addition to £1,000 that Brian had already raised for the centre.

Vanessa said: “Brian was 55 at the time of his stroke, working, playing rugby, and was a well know character in Hastings.

“Brian arrived at Avanti in a wheelchair and thanks to the skill of their hard working wonderful knowledgeable physios and staff he has improved over these last two years. Life changes overnight with stroke not just for Brian but me and our family and friends.”

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Brian said: “I was in hospital eight months, four weeks in ICU Brighton, eight weeks CCU Hastings, five weeks in Eastbourne Stroke ward then up to Putney Hospital for Neurodisabilities for four months.

“I got back home to Hastings at the end of November 2019. The first time I was back in the St Leonard pub was in a wheelchair. I now walk in with my stick. This challenge is very much part of my road to being Brian again and it will hopefully help me start to help others as I was helped along my journey.

“I’ve been going to the Avanti day centre for over a year now. They are amazing. They help folks like me with a brain injury. I would be lost without them.

“I also wanted to donate 25% of any money raised for the Samaritans to raise awareness of suicide in young men.