Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Idea - Part Three.

July 2016 – Mile 10.

Like the first mile and the Brands Hatch mile the next challenge was one where I wouldn’t have Michelle beside me. It was because the British Grand Prix was something myself and friends wanted to see and the tickets were quite pricey. Luckily mine was given to me by a local company that wanted to contribute to my challenge and make sure that I actually got in to see this spectacle. This company also wanted to remain anonymous and that’s their prerogative so I’ve kept to my word not to tell others, but thank you!

I find it very lonely to walk by myself; I suffer anxiety and a fear of falling because I do actually fall quite a lot. Michelle has these fears too. The thing about being disabled is that it’s not just you. Every decision that’s made in our family will no doubt revolve around access for example, if we were going for a meal, if we’re driving somewhere how long will it be from the car to our destination, every little thing has to be taken into account, in advance.

We don’t really need to talk much about this sort of thing at home, we just know. When we said ‘In sickness and in health’ never has a truer word been spoken. I’m lucky to have the wife and the life that I do have. I know without asking what Michelle and Lucie both think, I know that they are very protective of me and always care about my welfare constantly, they see stares from others that I now dismiss, the ignorance of others because some might say that I walk funny. Lucie once wrote that the fund raising we do as a family is for other families in the future “I never want other children to see what I see with my dad, the struggles he faces now and the struggles he’ll face in the future which we know will come”. I said then and I’ll say it again now, I couldn’t have put it better myself. Our aim was to raise funds for research to help other families and of course younger children that receive a diagnosis. Olivia is very caring and worries lots about me but like Lucie and Michelle I have to reassure her that we’ll be ok, if I can keep moving then I will, it’s a simple as that in my opinion, if I stop  then I’ll stop for good and I won’t let that happen. I am the same as any other father, I am the first role model they ever met and I’ll do my best to be the best role model they’ll ever have too. If I didn’t fight for myself and others then what sort of Dad would I be? Lastly,  I asked my youngest daughter Skye if she was worried about me going to Silverstone with friends and without the family and she replied “Do you think they will ever make a trampoline out of candy fluff? If they did could you eat it and bounce at the same time?” That’s the truth right there, out of the mouths of babes. So as a family, this year we have had anxiety, fear but also sheer joy and jubilation and so we’ll carry on but this one will be me without them and with a bunch of friends.

Silverstone is obviously very famous for being an airfield and a racing circuit, it’s also very famous for an opportunity to experience four seasons in one day and we did!

Another early start, I’ve been to the Grand Prix a few times over the years and historically it isn’t the best event to get in and out of but being local we used all our knowledge of lanes and back roads to get as close as possible before joining the crowds - but strangely there weren’t any. We arrived at the circuit at about 08:30 on a freezing morning (the first of the extreme weather) and drove straight to the main entrance. I had applied for blue badge parking and decided to walk a mile in the circuit rather than to the circuit. Also, I wanted to do this as early as possible and then fall asleep or rest myself somewhere before the race started. The marshalled parking was fantastic, I was asked if I would need a wheelchair space or if ambulant disabled parking was fine. Booking and parking at this venue was second to none, totally clued up. Myself and my good mate, Phil walked into the circuit after a thorough search, I think the search took longer than finding our parking space and getting inside. First things first, large coffees then get this done and meet the rest of our group. Lots of us have been coming to the Formula One for a number of years, but numbers have faded due to grown up responsibilities. So we started to walk, like Wimbledon, not much planned just walk half the distance and then walk back and settle in for the day. I was unsteady due to the ground and gravel that we were walking on, I was still cold and that was making my legs stiff and painful. Before I knew it we were half way and had to turn back and it started to rain and then it really started to rain… And thunder… and lightning! After a while it settled down (a bit) until the hail storm. The rubbish weather made me want this to be over so quickly and it was. We hadn’t met up with the others yet but we had just walked our Silverstone mile. The others had the luxury of accommodation nearby and they weren’t leaving it with the skies being so black.

Myself, Phil and Guinness, the breakfast of winners!
The Four Seasons of Silverstone

Myself and Phil celebrated with a pint of Guinness for breakfast and a big pat on the back. I was so happy right now, I had no idea why but I felt euphoric and adrenaline was coursing through me, absolutely buzzing! Finally my good old pal, Dean and everyone else showed up and they were armed to the teeth with seats, small tents, cool boxes full of drink and umbrellas, you name it and this lot had it, very experienced spectators. Me? I had a bright orange waterproof and a smile. Dean and Phil gripped me up from the bench and walked me to our vantage point and what a point it was, we saw the whole race and all the dramatics that happened that day, happened right in front of us; we all wanted Lewis Hamilton to win and that’s what happened, as well as the crashes right in front of where we were stood. So we got the result we came for and the boys all had a good drink too (they were all camping at the circuit until the Monday morning). All that was left for us to do was to drive the 20 odd miles home but as I said, the circuit is famed for logistical problems and surrounding areas are usually grid locked - but not today. I dropped Phil off at his house and I was back at mine within the hour, which is fantastic going for Grand Prix day. I got home, sunburnt, had a cuddle with the girls, poured a beer and fell asleep in front of the post-race interviews on my TV, how cool was that!?

Brothers in Arms at the F1.

I know I’ve said this already but my pals wouldn’t let me down that day, like the challenges before these people know me and know the signs of when to help me and they never let me down, I always consider myself lucky to have the friendship, solidarity and sense of humour with my friends, sometimes I’m not sure if they see a disability at all, they just see me, Martin - and that’s what I never want to change and I don’t think they do either.

August 2016 – Mile 11.

It was in 2012 that we decided to go on holiday to Weymouth, Dorset. We knew we would be able to watch Olympic sailing from the coast line and little did we know Ben Ainslie would be picking up four golds during our stay there. This was the inspiration to return this year and walk to the Olympic rings on Portland Bill. It is the picture postcard resort, the epitome of the Great British seaside holiday destination and we love going there.

As this was our annual family holiday I wanted to complete the mile early in the week so we could then relax and enjoy the rest of our break. So we set out early on the Sunday morning and it was overcast, cool and very steep! I parked our car next to an ice cream van and promised myself that when we were done I would buy all of us a big cornet as a reward. It was a very tough walk but as we reached the summit at Portland the cloud had cleared and the photo opportunity was incredible, the Olympic rings had been moved from what their home was in 2012 to where they are now and that is overlooking Weymouth bay and Chesil beach. It was glorious, the sun had come out and it felt like we were in Rio, in fact we were probably in a warmer environment than that of Brazil. So that was another mile ticked off and a nod to the Olympics both past and present as we went back to our accommodation and caught up with all what was going on in South America. The Ice cream was amazing too and the van owner man even made a donation to my page after telling him our story.

On top of the World!

August 2016 – Mile 12.

This was to be Chars Mile; I had decided to dedicate all my efforts for this day to my dear friend, Charlotte. As I previously mentioned Char was a big music fan and I know she liked 80's music and lots of colour so that’s what I tried to make happen. The Idea was a 80's themed party and during the day to cover 50 miles with family and friends by walking around our local pub in a relay, all of which was made possible thanks to our great friends and Landlord and Landlady; Gary & Val.

The day started at 13:00 and ten children set off with parents, family and friends to complete their very own mile, this also included young Callum who got out of his wheelchair for the last circuit and insisted on walking the last leg. There was not a dry eye in the house, this lad wanted to make every effort for others with this devastating condition, this was a very brave and inspirational young man, what a way to start our day of fundraising. We were also joined by a friend who asked to be our DJ. Dean Yorke was not local and also has Muscular Dystrophy but insisted on being part of the party and getting all his equipment here to play, these are the sort of things that you do not forget, people who have a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude, unbelievable.

The groups set off on another mile every hour, friends I see every day, friends I haven’t seen for years, friends from all over England and friends that are now friends because of what we did that day. It seemed a lot of people had heard about this event and the pub was packed. The BBQ had sold out, raffle tickets had all gone, music was playing and I think the bar nearly ran dry and people celebrated their own mile and their own achievement. I was stuck between the emotions of elation and desperately missing somebody…

When 17:00 came around it was the final mile of the day; this was Char's mile and time for me to walk it and say goodbye in my own way. It was painful from the outset but I tried to ignore it, my legs were burning, I couldn’t raise my arms and my back felt like it was falling in on its self with no support from lower back muscles. With the help of everyone around me, including Char's Mum and Dad, I persevered and pushed myself further than I should have done if I’m honest. At 17:45 I finished my mile and between us as a group we had moved 112 miles and on the day we raised £1000. I raised a toast and thanked everyone that was there that day and my thoughts were with one young lady who wasn’t.

We lined the streets and fun was had for Char. x

This was one big reason why I always talk about these conditions; people may never have heard of it before speaking to me, people may never have realised that it has no compassion, doesn’t worry about being selective and will shorten young lives without a care in the world. This is why we need to raise awareness and funds to extend and improve the quality of people’s lives too and that is so important. So I’ll never apologise for being relentless, I’ll never apologise for shouting from the rooftops, it’s what I do and what I do best.

September 2016 – Mile 13.

This was the penultimate mile and it was the only official event that I had entered all year. Parallel London is an inclusive event designed to bring everyone together. First-timer or experienced athlete, young or old, whatever your age or ability everyone was welcome. The ethos of this event is right up my street and it takes place in the Olympic park, London. So I would be walking a mile at the place that was thriving in 2012, this was where Team GB smashed so many records and collected a haul of medals, I couldn’t wait to get started with this mile.

We arrived quite late to Stratford and had to park the car up and because it was an official event I had to sign in, get a number and a bib to pin it to. I was flustered as we parked the car and I could also see the Start/Finish from the car park and it wasn’t close to us, well not as close as I would have liked anyway. Every step counted now as my legs were so sore and just ached relentlessly, there was no let up now from one challenge to the next, it was pain all the way.

I opened my car door, got out, stretched my legs and was greeted by a family also all dressed in Orange Muscular Dystrophy t-shirts. We got talking and again this was a family I had heard so much about on Social media but not actually met until now. ‘Dan’s Hope’ was a team of family and friends doing all they can to raise awareness and funds for Dan and young people like him who have Ullrich Muscular Dystrophy. Dan’s parents; James and Debra introduced my family to their family including Dan himself and his brother Charlie. Together we made our way to the registration point as we walked on the 11th hour of my challenge and I was inspired and boosted more than I thought possible.

I asked Dan what he was doing here today and he explained that so many people have done so much for him and his charity that he wanted to do something himself, so he decided - despite his condition - to attempt the 1 kilometre walk. Dan was full of questions as his dad James explained who I was and what I’d been doing all year. “How old are you? How many children do you have? What is your Muscular Dystrophy called? Do your legs hurt? What’s your favourite food? What football team do you support?” Dan made me laugh out loud as I tried to answer everything he asked.

We made a vow there and then that we would walk together and support each other doing this challenge. We just had some time to see some stalls and take in the magnificent event that had been put on and before we knew it we was asked on the P.A. system to get to the start line. It was busy and buzzing with so many people all around with so many fantastic stories that we could hear being told. We started walking and I had disregarded the idea of timing myself, this mile wasn’t about me anymore it was about who I was walking with and I felt honoured to be with such a determined person.

As we got near the finish Dan had told me that he wanted to celebrate by doing the Mo-bot, a gesture made by Mo Farah after he completes a race. Now for someone like Dan this would be difficult for him to get his hands on his head but I said that if he did then I would get a photo of us together and I would pose like Usain Bolt, which would be equally as difficult.

We made it! We crossed the line together and there were a lot of tears from everyone, except Dan. All Dan wanted was his medal and our photo, so that’s what we did - and it’s one of my photos of the year, I know how difficult it was to get the picture but it just goes to show what we can do if we really, really want to.

We have since stayed in touch with James and Debra and we will meet the boys again one day too, I really want to help ‘Dan’s Hope’. Everything about that day got flipped upside down because I wanted to concentrate and write about the venue, an iconic location that was riddled with so many fantastic Olympic and Paralympic memories. This part of writing was supposed to be all about that and how great 2012 was but it wasn’t about that at all. It was about amazing people pushing themselves to the absolute limit with no boundaries or restrictions. This was very inclusive and the team at Parallel London should be very proud but for me, Dan stole the show, all year I have used the strap line “If I Can, You Can Too” well… If Dan can, you can too!

If Dan Can, You Can Too!

September 2016 – Mile 14.

I owe so much to so many, the problem with thanking people is that if you miss someone out then you may just put their nose out of joint forever so I always try to tread carefully and thank everyone but there is a man who does need mentioning.

From the autumn of 2015 I have been helped by Thom Kirwin. Thom is a Sports Journalist, Broadcaster, Commentator and Media executive for Leeds united. Now I didn’t want to start this whole writing process there, I realise that unless you have an affiliation with a football club it would be of no interest to you and you would stop reading but this is not about who I support, it’s about who supported me.

On January 2nd, 2016 Thom helped me launch my whole campaign at Elland Road. Thom managed to get our short film on the big screen before kick-off against the MK Dons, he invited all my family up to see it, put me in touch with all press associates that were present at the game that day including SKY presenter; Bryn Law who has also been helping out and staying in touch all year, constantly asking to help.

So I am sorry to be writing this part retrospectively and out of the order of events but it all started at Leeds with the help of Thom and this amazing year will end there too. I cannot thank you enough Thom, forever grateful.

The very last mile was the best. The very last mile was a walk to football with friends, the people that pulled me out of my shell after sharing my stories on social media, the people that took me in and said “you’re one of us”, the people that went Marching on Together with me, the kindred spirits that were here to help.

We met with a large group in Holbeck Moor Park at 13:00; 10th Sept, everyone had come together, family and friends that had been with me for different miles all over England and throughout the year. We were joined by strangers too, people that had heard my story and promised to make this walk to football with us. We were again joined by friends with a young son called Conrad; Conrad also had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Conrad’s mum and dad, Clair & Richard had become friends on social media and said they wanted to be here to be part of this. Just before we started walking I got a call from a man who couldn’t find his way to the park to join us, the phone reception was bad and I couldn’t understand who it was but tried my best to direct them to us. I turned around to where I thought he was walking from and a man-mountain was walking towards me. The man in question was Jamie jones-Buchanan and what a fantastic smile this man has, it stood me in good stead as we all got some photos together and then set off on the final challenge of the year.

Myself, the legend that is JJB and great friend and author, Jon Howe

This was probably the most emotional mile, in fact probably one of the most emotional things I’ve ever done in my life. Everything hurt, everything was white hot with pain and I especially had a problem with my calf muscles, they just kept pinging with pain and telling me to stop, I’ve come too far to stop now, all I could think of was Billy Bremner's statue, quite selfishly I had nothing or nobody else on my mind. And then I stopped, truly exhausted, I was in a place of pain and discomfort that I’ve never experienced before…

It was on the roundabout near Lowfields Avenue, close to the underpass on Lowfields Road, just a few hundred metres from Elland Road. I’d been here for years, I’d walked this walk many times, I was so close but felt so far away. I was thinking a lot, maybe too much. As Michelle massaged my calf muscles, trying to get some feeling back I was pondering, contemplating the future and what it might hold for me and I must say this… I do not fear a wheelchair or what’s coming, I have a good idea. I am realist and seeing my older brother dealing with this condition makes it easier to set myself up. Organisation and positivity work for me, it’s my coping mechanism, also the Mrs! Michelle once helped me out so much when I was stubborn and so very low, she told me to concentrate on what I can do and not what I can’t and I’ve done that ever since – that was me told.

As I came around and out of what felt like a day dream of pain I just thought that I would carry on regardless, even if it took all day, even if I crawled, nobody was timing me and I would make it off my own steam, this is the end and I’m surrounded by people who care, but still I didn’t want to let anyone down. I hid my pain away, I tried my best to let it go unnoticed, but it must have been written on my face as Michelle and our Jo grabbed me under the arms as we walked the last few steps towards Billy’s Statue. Josh joined us too and we only had a few steps left, the last part of the challenge was to climb the steps of the statue and touch the famous shirt, I couldn’t make it, I couldn’t lift my arms high enough but as the tears flowed and the relief was felt, I reached the shorts of our famous number four. I was done, I had given every fibre of myself and I had succeeded, the impossible task had just been smashed and I had surprised myself and pushed myself beyond what I thought I could possibly do.

I got there thanks to Michelle and Jo

Marching On Together!

What was needed after this mile was for me to be somewhere very comfortable and I was. Thom had arranged for us to be seated in the Norman Hunter suite and there we would have lunch before kick-off. I was so tired and I couldn’t really get my head around the menu to place an order for lunch. It was then that I noticed Norman Hunter was in the room, Norman was one of the reasons I went to Wembley to walk a mile, I had gone to pay homage to a couple of fantastic football players. It was exactly 50 years since England won the world cup and part of the squad was two of my favourite players. The Leeds United representatives in 1966 were one-club-player in Jack Charlton and the aforementioned Norman Hunter; one of my heroes, sat just across the room from where I was. I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity for a chat and as I walked across to say hello we was asked to take our seats in the stands for the game. I kept going the opposite way to everyone else and as I got in front of Norman my mouth was bone dry, I had the worst case of cotton wool mouth and speechlessness that I could think of but I held out my hand, he shook it and we had a chat. Not sure how it happened but the whole of the banqueting suite had emptied and Norman asks to come and sit with my family and wanted to know all about my challenge. For about 5 or 10 minutes I had this legend to myself and I got to ask him everything I ever thought I would. I will put this down to the generosity of others for giving me this opportunity to be in the right place at the right time, something I will never forget. 

A Hero of Mine - Norman Hunter

My year of challenges was complete and in dribs and drabs my fundraising page kept slowly creeping up and then one day in the week after we had walked to Leeds I got a message from a man called Gary O’Leary-Steele and the message read like this… “Hi Martin, long time follower on twitter and admirer of your fund raising work. I’m a security researcher at a company based in Leeds; from time to time we are awarded prizes known as bug bounties when we find security flaws. If we donate the reward then it gets doubled by the sender. I would like to donate my reward to you; it will be in the region of £4,850. Keep up the good work mate. Marching On Together!”

My first thought was that Gary was going to ask for my credit card details and that I was dealing with some sort of internet troll or distributor of spam but I was wrong and Gary did make that donation and alongside everyone else’s generosity my total for the year was over £15,000!
This amount of money equates to 428 hours of research paid for by my challenge, that is 18 days of constant work to find treatments for these conditions and we did that, all of us.

I had an Idea and I had pulled it off. It seemed ridiculous and unrealistic but I had done it and I had shocked myself because of it too. I’ve always known to push myself because I’ve always had to. I never want to just drift through this life, I wanted to challenge myself and you can too. I think it’s important that we take stock of our own lives and look around and appreciate what we have and if there is an opportunity to help others then we must do that. It is so easy to be selfless and the chances are it will cost you nothing but a bit of time, which is what we have plenty of but others may not and we need to change that.

Choose to go and help someone and if you think you have an adventure in mind then make it happen, to lean on that old cliché, don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Go and be a ‘Do-er’ and a ‘Go-getter’. When some people get a diagnosis they may say “Why me, why has this happened to me?” and I say why not me? I have the ability and big mouth to help others so why wouldn’t I do that. I have had one of the best years of my life, I’ve taken family and friends with me and it might be small and insignificant but I hope my girls will see this as my legacy and memories that will stay with all involved forever.

Thank you all.

"If I can, you can too.” 

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