James Owens has revealed how he overcame the effects of long Covid-19 to take charge of this weekend’s All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling Championship decider.
The long-standing inter-county referee contracted Covid last August, and after an initial recovery, he suffered the physical effects of the more long-term version of the illness.
Fatigue and shortness of breath were the main symptoms he endured before remedying the matter through utilising the Hyperbaric Wexford facility provided by leading Wexford physical therapist Donal ‘Gammy’ O’Connor at his practice outside Enniscorthy.
“Only for Donal’s oxygen chamber, I simply wouldn’t have got the Club final,” the 45-year-old Askamore-Kilrush man insists.
The oxygen chamber pumps pure oxygen throughout the client’s body in one-hour sessions to aid recovery from injury and various conditions.
Owens undertook five treatments before passing the national GAA referees’ fitness test with flying colours on January 29th last.
“When long Covid struck, I simply wasn’t able to run. My lungs weren’t able to generate the required air capacity.
“When I first got Covid-19 last August, I only suffered from flu-like symptoms for a day or two.
“But around October or November, long Covid hit me, and I felt really tired and just absolutely fatigued.
“I was trying to keep fit. But where normally I would recover quickly after any activity, suddenly it was taking two days to feel okay.
“I just had to sleep off the tiredness. Three or four days later I would get a fresh bout of energy. But the fatigue would always return and it was extremely draining.”
Owens has been a client of Donal O’Connor for over twenty years and was advised to explore the ground-breaking hyperbaric oxygen chamber in his efforts to regain full fitness.
“I got out of the chamber after the first session and my lungs were on fire (owing to the infusion of pure oxygen), so I knew something positive was happening,” Owens explains.
“The idea of the hyperbaric chamber is that it pushes pure oxygen into parts of the body that oxygen doesn’t reach otherwise, and the heat coming from my lungs proved that the process was actually happening.
“I was aiming to do ten sessions, but Donal said to do five and to determine where to proceed from there. And after the first five treatments, I was coming back to my normal rate of fitness.”
The highly regarded official went on to excel in the fitness test – achieving a mark of 17.2 in the beep test where the required pass rate was 16.8.
As a consequence, Owens has been handed control of Saturday’s eagerly anticipated All-Ireland Club decider between three in-a-row chasing Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny) and Waterford challengers Ballygunner.
It is his second time to handle this fixture having previously taken care of the 2015 edition before being elevated to oversee that year’s All-Ireland Senior hurling championship final and subsequently those of 2018 and 2019.
“There is no chance I would be doing a game of any description right now if it wasn’t for the facilities available at Donal’s clinic,” emphasises Owens, who had previous experience of the hyperbaric chamber when dealing with stress.
That can be attributed to running his own business, Blackstairs Cleaning Solutions, and the man himself points out: “I had two sessions in the oxygen chamber in 2020 when I was suffering from work-related stress and it definitely helped on that occasion too.”
Owens will again be assisted on Saturday by his top umpiring team comprising his younger brother David as well as Jimmy Dunbar, Joe Kelly and Ian Plunkett.