Friday, 19 September 2014

Just one solitary mile.

On the 30th August 2014 I took on one of the biggest challenges of my life, to walk one mile to Elland Road, Leeds.

Towards the back end of 2013 I had an idea; I put a proposal to those in charge at Leeds United. It was quite simple really - a charity football match played at Elland Road. Fans would have the opportunity to pay for the privilege, and in turn they'd get a day that they would never forget. Things all looked rather promising initially, the club and I were in correspondence, but - and I'll cut a long story short here - ownership then changed and everything that was previously said, was suddenly rendered irrelevant. Bin fodder.

Now I'd made a promise on the back of the information I was receiving and I told a local family who's son has duchenne from Pontefract that I would do my best to raise awareness of muscular dystrophy in West Yorkshire. I have heard many stories of duchenne diagnosis and Conrad's story  had stayed with me and I wanted to try to help.

Now this football match was not going to happen how could I now bring that attention?

In August 2013 I took part in the muscular dystrophy campaign's 'Mile For Muscles' an event held up and down the UK where people would move one mile to raise awareness and vital funds for research and as impossible as that was I now had no option but to bring that to Leeds. I would walk one mile to a Leeds game and ask others to walk with me.

Firstly I asked three important people for help and support, my wife, Michelle and my friends and fellow Leeds fan, Jo Entwistle and Matt McKeith. All gladly (and luckily for me) had no doubts and immediately said yes.

As many of you already know, I live with my own limb girdle muscular dystrophy and as we've gone through 2014 my condition has got progressively worse and my body has weakened and is weakening, always.

So now this walk, this one mile had become very significant. I loved walking to football and had also, quite recently wrote about that and what it means. I'm an optimist and I'm also a realist and I'd realised quite early on in this whole campaign as my condition was worsening that this would actually be a swansong for me, I would never walk to football again, not like it used to be, not like this and for me, that was very emotional so I tried to bottle it and use that emotion to push me on if I needed to call upon it during my mile.

We now had objectives. Raise awareness, raise funds and get as many people as possible to do this with us. Jo and Matt took to social media and asked everyone they knew to read my articles, donate and go marching on together to Elland Road. I starting to hit upon everyone I could think of in the media to see if anyone wanted to get involved and Michelle physically supported me in all that I was doing.

The walk was to take place before the Bolton game on August the 30th, starting one mile away in Holbeck Moor Park. We would meet at 12:45 and walk at 13:00 hoping to make it to Billy's statue in 45 minutes.

The day before the walk and also a few weeks before, I was asked to speak on BBC radio Leeds about my challenge. I was absolutely petrified but always knew this could be an opportunity to raise awareness and maybe some funds for research. Also I just wanted to know that my three girls know that dad's trying. Trying to help others as well as myself, this was a chance for them to hear me doing exactly that. If I didn't try and simply gave up then what sort of Daddy would I be? 

LIVE on BBC radio Leeds

I have absolutely no idea how that interview went with Wes Butters and his morning crew. Before I knew it, it was over. I was escorted back to the foyer of BBC Leeds and that was that. Or so I thought. Adam Pope (BBC's Leeds United commentator and reporter) then walked in and immediately shook my hand and gave me some money for my fund raising page, he then went on to tell me what he had heard on the radio, he said it was very moving and inspirational. I really did appreciate this however; like I said, I cannot recollect a thing. Turns out that lot's of people felt the same as Adam because when I turned my phone back on the notifications went a bit mad. The fact that social media nearly broke my phone made me smile from ear to ear.

All the shouting and promotion I could do for this event was now done, with the help of The Bucks Herald, Yorkshire Evening Post, BBC Leeds, The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, plus everyone on Facebook and Twitter I think, I'm not sure but I think at this point I had done enough... About an hour after I left the BBC my phone started to, once again, go into melt down. Leeds United had run my story on Twitter, Facebook and the official site! Gobsmacked! Shortly after that I got a call from the club and was told to meet 'Stix' Lockwood at the club reception after my walk. I was starting to get giddy, apprehensive and it was as if I’d lost some self-belief when in actual fact I should be feeling great. The realisation of expectation had started to dawn on me, what if I couldn't do this? I'd asked everyone to come along and help with awareness, funds and enthusiasm and here I was, stood outside a shop in Leeds, thinking for the first time, I might not do this, this horrible condition may just get the better of me...

Saturday, 30th August, 2014...

I woke up with a bit more confidence even with slight pain in my legs. The messages of good luck and reassurance were helping lots. Then it was time, time to make our way to Holbeck Park, hopefully meet friends, fellow fans and walk this mile. As we drove closer my legs were shaking and my stomach was flipping, I was absolutely petrified for myself and the fact I did not want to let anyone down. I was trying my best not to show any emotion, none whatsoever.

Jo and family were the first there and luckily the crowd started growing as time went on. Few photo’s, meet and greets and then, at 13:00, we started to walk. Just one solitary mile, that’s all it was.
As I expected, the pain was immediate and relentless but I could not begin to think about anything that would make me stop I had to be driven by as much positivity as I could muster. There was lots going on around me and people kept asking if I was ok and all this helped, I just needed to keep going. I could keep telling you how I felt but it was the same throughout the whole mile… Until just before Lowfields Road, just as we saw the East stand come into view. I felt an excruciating ping in my calf muscle, a pain of brobdingnagian proportions, I had to stop and massage it before I could move anymore  and I had to keep moving, we’ve gone too far now to let anybody down. Now I had Jo on one side of me and Michelle on the other, practically holding me up. Through the M621 underpass and we were nearly there, I couldn’t believe it, we might actually do this and the crowds had gathered too! I started to look around and noticed we had gained a fair few people as we were walking. It was getting better, everything started to feel good and I could see Billy!
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It was then that people did something truly outstanding. Every Leeds fan in that area of Lowfields road and the Elland Road junction started to clap and cheer, you have no idea how much this helped and it is something I will never forget for the rest of my life. I just needed to climb four steps to touch Billy’s shirt. That was all I wanted to do to complete this and get it done and to applause and cheer, with a lump in my throat, with the help of Michelle, Jo and everybody else… WE DID IT! We really did just go marching on Together. 

I am and always will be extremely grateful for everyone's help, support and donations.
BIG thanks to fellow walkers, Michelle, Jo and family, Matt, Dan and everyone at RITGK, The Square Ball, Gary Cooper, Carmel, Guy, Jon, Andy P, Andy C, Adam J, Gray and Hannah, Mark B, Rach aka Pags, Lynn, Dom, Andrew 'Stats' Dalton, 'Leeds On Tour' Lee, Adam, Claire, Neil, Oddy, Moscow, Paul Robinson. There were more walkers and lots of solidarity simply because of the badge of our club. Unfortunately I couldn't meet everyone, so, sorry if I haven't mentioned you.
Thanks also to West Yorkshire Police, 'Stix' Lockwood, Matt Diamond, Rich Williams and everyone at Leeds United who went on to give myself and Michelle a VIP day at the club and Leeds won too!   

One of the best things about this was that Conrad and his family, whom I mentioned earlier, had come along and moved  the mile with us too!  

I wanted to walk one last mile to football with pals and we did.

I wanted us to raise awareness of this devastating condition and we did.

I wanted us to raise 24 hours of world class research into this condition and we raised 72 Hours...

Thank you.