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He went to rehab for drug addiction. Now he's a world-class athlete. This is his story.

Feeling trapped by social stereotypes, Gavan Hennigan turned to drugs and alcohol.

Gavan Hennigan is a world-class athlete.

He's a 35-year-old ultra-marathoner who recently set an international record as the fastest person to row solo across the Atlantic in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. To put this in perspective, more people have been to space than have rowed the Atlantic.

In short, Hennigan is unstoppable.


Photo via Ben Duffy. All images used with permission.

But 14 years ago, things weren’t looking so bright.

Hennigan's childhood was rough. His father was an alcoholic. It made him a deeply angry person from a young age.

He found his solace in sport and nature. He grew up a few hundred meters from Ireland's Galway Bay and was an avid swimmer. He says his earliest memories involve time spent outdoors.

Photo via Gavan Hennigan.

As a teen, Hennigan says he knew he was gay. But the uncertainty of what that meant for his future — and his harbored anger and the abandonment he felt because of his father — led him to find comfort in drinking around age 16. Later, he turned to other drugs and substances, including heroin.

Six years into his drug addiction, Hennigan found himself living in a squat in London. Trash bags were taped over the window to keep out the light and fresh air. He was completely disconnected from nature, the very thing that had always brought him comfort.

He moved back to Ireland and, at 21, began a rehab program. It was at this program that Hennigan decided to come out. Unfortunately, the brave moment was met with a homophobic response.

“The guy who I was sharing a room with specifically left rehab because he was sharing a room with a gay guy,” Hennigan recalls.

Hennigan attempted suicide after the six-week rehab program.

“I felt cornered. I felt like, ‘This seems like the only option to get out of the way I feel right now.’ A lot of it was the sexuality thing. You don’t just figure that out overnight,” he says.

The recovery process was not an easy one. Gavan found himself dealing not only with his addictions, but with the difficulty of being gay in Ireland through the '90s and early 2000s. His complicated feelings about his own sexuality made his recovery a series of fits and starts.

Hennigan began to surf on the west coast of Ireland. He credits much of his recovery to reconnecting with nature.

He also started competing in ultra-marathons, trekking across Siberia, scaling mountains, and eventually rowing solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Photo via Gavan Hennigan.

“A lot of people comment that I’ve replaced one addiction with another, but I don’t see it that way at all," he says. "I see addiction as very damaging. I feel like I’ve tapped into some crazy energy within myself. It’s more about passion and trying to see the world and trying to experience as much as I can.”

Even though Hennigan's hashtag as he rowed across the Atlantic was #souloGav, he credits recovery to opening up to others.

Photo via Gavan Hennigan.

Looking back, he saw that he was internalizing all of his negative thoughts and emotions, which allowed them to gain power and to seem larger than life.

“No matter how bad you think it is, talking about it to somebody takes the power out of it,” he says. Gavan clarifies that speaking his innermost thoughts is still not an easy task and that voice of doubt is still there, but it's much quieter than before.

“It's the absolute hardest thing. I’ll go out on the Atlantic Ocean in 30-foot waves, I’ll run 500 [kilometers] in the Arctic, but when I have to sit down with somebody and talk about my feelings — that’s 100 times scarier.”

Photo via Gavan Hennigan.

Hennigan says he didn’t feel like he fit into any one societal stereotype — not of a gay man or of an ultra-athlete. But that's exactly why he wants to share his story.

He hopes that in talking about his life, young people who may be struggling with the similar identity or addiction issues can see that being a gay man or a recovering addict doesn’t mean you're just one thing.

“I want to share my story so other younger guys who feel like ‘There isn’t a guy like me out there' — there is.”

Nature

Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave that’s been closed for 70 years

You can only access the cave from the basement of the home and it’s open for business.

This Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave.

Have you ever seen something in a movie or online and thought, "That's totally fake," only to find out it's absolutely a real thing? That's sort of how this house in Pennsylvania comes across. It just seems too fantastical to be real, and yet somehow it actually exists.

The home sits between Greencastle and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and houses a pretty unique public secret. There's a cave in the basement. Not a man cave or a basement that makes you feel like you're in a cave, but an actual cave that you can't get to unless you go through the house.

Turns out the cave was discovered in the 1830s on the land of John Coffey, according to Uncovering PA, but the story of how it was found is unclear. People would climb down into the cave to explore occasionally until the land was leased about 100 years later and a small structure was built over the cave opening.

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via Pexels

A couple celebrates while packing their home.

One of the topics that we like to highlight on Upworthy is people who are redefining what it means to be in a relationship. Recently, we’ve shared the stories of platonic life partners, moms who work together as part of a “mommune” and a polyamorous family with four equally-committed parents.

A growing number of people are reevaluating traditional relationships and entering lifestyles that work for them instead of trying to fit into preexisting roles. It makes sense because the more lifestyle options that are available, the greater chance we have to be happy.

A recent trend in unconventional relationships is married couples "living apart together," or LATs as they are known among mental health professionals.

Actress Helena Bonham Carter and director Tim Burton, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and producer Brad Falchuk, and photographer Annie Leibovitz and activist Susan Sontag are all high-profile couples who’ve embraced the LAT lifestyle.

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Family

Professional tidier Marie Kondo says she's 'kind of given up' after having three kids

Hearing Kondo say, 'My home is messy,' is sparking joy for moms everywhere.

Marie Kondo playing with her daughters.

Marie Kondo's book, "The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up," has repeatedly made huge waves around the world since it came out in 2010. From eliminating anything that didn't "spark joy" from your house to folding clothes into tiny rectangles and storing them vertically, the KonMari method of maintaining an organized home hit the mark for millions of people. The success of her book even led to two Netflix series.

It also sparked backlash from parents who insisted that keeping a tidy home with children was not so simple. It's one thing to get rid of an old sweater that no longer brings you joy. It's entirely another to toss an old, empty cereal box that sparks zero joy for you, but that your 2-year-old is inexplicably attached to.

To be fair, Kondo never forced her way into anyone's home and made them organize it her way. But also to be fair, she didn't have kids when she wrote her best-selling book on keeping a tidy home. The reality is that keeping a home organized and tidy with children living in it is a whole other ballgame, as Kondo has discovered now that she has three kids of her own.

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Pop Culture

YouTube star MrBeast sponsors 1,000 people's cataract surgery to help them see again

"I had never heard of MrBeast so I almost hung up. But gratefully did not hang up."

YouTube star sponsors 1,000 people's cataract surgery

Blindness touches people's lives around the world and YouTube star Jimmy Donaldson, more popularly known as MrBeast, is trying to do something about it. Donaldson made it his mission to help 1,000 people regain their eyesight with the help of Dr. Jeff Levenson, an ophthalmologist and surgeon in Jacksonville, Florida.

Levenson has been operating a program called "Gift of Sight" for over 20 years. The program provides free cataract surgery to uninsured people who are legally blind for free, so long as they meet certain criteria. Levenson had never heard of Donaldson, and he almost hung up on him when the YouTube star called to ask about a partnership.

"I had never heard of MrBeast so I almost hung up. But gratefully did not hang up," Levenson told CNN.

After figuring out that Donaldson was indeed a real person who wanted to help others, the duo called around the Jacksonville area to determine the people who needed help the most. They got their list of clients from free clinics and homeless shelters, which covered the United States portion of the surgeries.

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A mom makes sensory sand by putting Cheerios in a blender.

A parenting influencer who goes by the name @ellethevirgo on TikTok has shared a brilliant hack that can turn a simple box of Cheerios into a fun sensory sand experience. The great part is that the sand is edible, so you don’t have to worry if your child puts some in their mouth, which they will inevitably do.

The recipe for Cheerios sensory sand is pretty simple:

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Gaël Monfils makes tennis a must-see.

Tennis isn't always the most entertaining sport to watch, especially if you're not particularly interested in seeing a ball get slapped across a net at 1,000,000 mph approximately 17,000 times. You could probably get whiplash or eye strain if you focused too hard on it. While some people love the sport, others need a little more than grunts and sneaker sounds to capture their attention.

If you're in the group of people who need to be entertained, look no further than Gaël Monfils, a professional French tennis player that has earned the nickname, "The Entertainer." Monfils turned pro in 2004 and has multiple championship matches under his belt, and yet he still takes the time to be...extra while playing.

In a compilation video uploaded to TikTok, we see the 36-year-old tennis player dancing after hitting the ball across the net just out of his opponent's reach. But of course, he also doesn't hit the ball like your average player, either. In one part of the video, Monfils jumps up extremely high and bicycle kicks as he hits the ball with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.

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