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Untoppable: How Mike McDonnell, Award-winning Coach, Entrepreneur, Author, and Speaker has been able to thrive, living with cystic fibrosis and diabetes

We have limitations, boundaries, and rules for ourselves that allow us to get through each and every day. Some are flexible, some are not, and the best people to have around us are the people that understand what we can be flexible on and what we can’t be. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike McDonnell. […]


We have limitations, boundaries, and rules for ourselves that allow us to get through each and every day. Some are flexible, some are not, and the best people to have around us are the people that understand what we can be flexible on and what we can’t be.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike McDonnell. Mike is an award-winning coach, entrepreneur, author and speaker that has grown several businesses, made his dream move abroad while having cystic fibrosis and diabetes.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? Can you share the story of how you became disabled/became ill, and what you did to not let it stop you?

I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 2 months old and “failed to thrive” as a baby; it was premature by a couple of months and spent my first Christmas in hospital. The doctors and consultants asked the question that most parents dread, “do you want to save this child?”… and I’m grateful to this day that they said “yes”.

That meant that my parents had to be committed to a life of looking after me, doing what the hospital said, maintaining my health became my life from as young as I could remember. Sport, exercise and generally playing while keeping active was what gave me the best chance of getting through it through the first decade of my life.

It became the life I lead, there’s no doubt that doing that made the biggest difference. My life had to look a certain way if I was ever going to be able to do what I wanted and have cystic fibrosis. A combination of habits, routines, ways of thinking and even what I would do career-wise would have to be thought about through the lens of my condition.

Can you tell us about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your illness?

My conditions never stopped me unless in extreme situations; I always felt different, singled out sometimes, bullied and made to feel small for most of my life. Despite that, the first thing that went against the ‘norm’ was that I started a tennis coaching business as tennis was something I grew good at and I love the feeling I get from helping others. Alongside that, and my degree, I got qualified as a personal trainer and started a personal training business as well as the tennis.

Running two businesses that were based on keeping active, most would see that as impossible or not what I ‘should’ do; but that’s what gave me the ability to keep healthy while being able to support myself financially, ticking a couple of boxes I needed to tick health-wise while doing something I enjoyed was a dream come true for me at the time.

I spent a long time going against the grain and I guess it’s because I never really felt “normal” that allowed me to not actually do normal things. Once my tennis and fitness clients realized I had cystic fibrosis and diabetes, they saw me as an inspiration and, “I don’t really have an excuse if you can do these things.” That was the first taste I got of my story and the way I am being an inspiration to others. I realized that the reason I could do what I do was down to my mindset, the way I thought and my ability to simply not give up, give in and resign myself to a life I didn’t feel worth living.

What advice would you give to other people who have disabilities or limitations?

It is way too easy to resign yourself to the hand you’re dealt with in your life, way too easy. I know, trust me; but you can find a way to make your life worth living. The trick is to find your version and go at it with everything you have. So you also have no regrets even if you don’t quite get there.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

Aside from my family and the invaluable help that the health system has given me, saved my life more times than I can count; the one other person is by a country mile, my best friend, Jane.

She’s helped me through the brighter and darker periods of my life, understood me, was right there with me through all of it and I couldn’t wish for a better person to come into my life. I really couldn’t. From the deepest part of my heart, she’s saved me and continues to save me to this day whether she realizes it or not.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I had two options; practice what I preach, live how I want, and don’t settle for less than I want, (because that meant I had to keep fit, healthy to perform my best)… or admit defeat and decline very quickly into someone that can’t physically fulfill his potential and live a life that was worthy of me being saved all those years ago.

So I started to share my story more, use my experience to help people with their mindset and their way of thinking, and I found that by helping service-based entrepreneurs I could help more people because they also helped people too. Serving ‘through’ people became my motivation to give my life meaning.

Can you share “5 things I wish people understood/knew about people with physical limitations” and why.

We spend soo long trying to feel ‘normal’ while fully understanding that we’re not.

Everyone wants to find ‘their place’ but it’s more intense for people with limitations. Feeling like we’re accepted for who we are is something we might need a little extra help with.

Not feeling good enough is the resting state for most people… but doing things for us all the time diminished our value as a human even further. Letting us try, fail and improve is the ONLY way for us to know if we do actually have limitations or not. If you help before we realize that, we will always feel like we need help and can’t do anything on our own.

We have limitations, boundaries, and rules for ourselves that allow us to get through each and every day. Some are flexible, some are not, and the best people to have around us are the people that understand what we can be flexible on and what we can’t be.

We want the same things as you, we’re human, it’s just harder for us to achieve sometimes.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

Be you, because life’s too short to be anyone else.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

I have a few 🙂

Jeremy Clarkson, Roger Federer, and Michael Jordan.

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