Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Idea - Part Two.

April 2016 – Mile 4.

My expected break was short lived but for good reason. Josh Warrington, WBC International and European featherweight boxing champion had been supporting me from the beginning of January, he knew all about the challenge I was taking on and had said that he would join us on a walk later in the year. So it was time for us to be proactive and go and support Josh. We added a Leeds mile into growing list (the first of three) and decided to walk to Josh’s fight. My dad has always said that it’s important to support those who support you and to give that support back as big as you can possibly manage. I remember lying on my bed in the Queens Hotel, Leeds and just as the final football scores where coming in that Saturday evening at 16:45 my phone started buzzing with a notification; it was Josh… “Good luck with your walk to the arena, true fighter”. That is the measure of the man and that made me feel 10 feet tall. We met family and friends in the reception of the hotel, it was a busy one. Firstly we had to draw a raffle kindly put on by Pete at the Duncan pub, then we went onwards up Briggate to the Leeds First Direct Arena. This was more of a hill than I expected and for the first time I stopped during my mile. My legs felt like they were on fire, so we took time out and I was just hoping to get some power back. We set off again and the arena was in site, I wanted to stop again but actually thought that would be detrimental and just carried on through it. We eventually got there and another box was ticked. Josh went on to beat up Hisashi Amagasa, retained all his belts and my voice was gone by the end of the night, everyone was a winner. Our great friend Josephine gave us a lift back to the hotel and I slept like a baby until we were kicked out the next morning.

Just before the Josh Warrington victory.

April 2016 – Mile 5.

Now I don’t want to keep name dropping and I never want to sound pretentious but again I was lucky enough to be joined on a mile. The decision that people make to join me on my challenges is theirs - and I was often approached and asked if people could help - and you have to also take into account these people have a lot of followers on social media so the message and awareness goes further, faster.

Every year for a good few years now myself, family and friends have been to Tower Bridge on the day of the London Marathon and given our support for the ‘Team Orange’ runners. I decided to make this one of our challenges and walk a mile to spectate and this year we would be joined by Simon Rix from the Kaiser Chiefs. Again, Simon had seen and heard stuff about my challenge on social media and asked if he could get involved. I asked him straight away to walk with us to the marathon and he said yes. It seems strange that I would let this man wait for me as we were late for our train and also when we arrived at London Bridge tube station Simon kindly asked if we minded waiting for him to get a coffee. Cheekily I asked him to be quick “We haven’t got all the time in the world, pal!” - this to a man who has played to an audience of a million people in Philadelphia.

My mate Dave, The Sammon family and Simon Rix under Tower Bridge.

That part of London still has some cobbles and this was like an ice rink for me so I clung on to Michelle for dear life. We were all chatting on the way to Tower Bridge and the walk went quite quickly and then it was up to us to support these amazing charities and all the people running for them. The London Marathon was a heart string puller for me as it's something I always wanted to do in my life but I never got that opportunity, I was robbed of it when I received my diagnosis and my body began to fail me, with all the will in the world I would never be able to take part in this amazing event. It’s always a bitter sweet day for me but I never give up my support and it always makes me smile from ear to ear. The Marathon mile was complete and it was done with the most amazing company and conversation.

Check out the guy on the roof behind us!
May 2016 – Mile 6.

A very early start for a very different mile, we were up with the sunrise and making our way to the world famous Kent motor racing circuit that is Brands Hatch. The idea here was to push myself to the limit in my good friend's BMW M3, this may sound simple but I wasn’t prepared to take it easy on myself. I wanted to know that what I was doing was in a competitive time and seen as relevant. The Brands Hatch mile all came about because of my good friend Ben Tucker who made this suggestion back in November 2015 (and it was his car we would be using!). Ben had done all the planning here and liaised with the circuit to make this possible, taking into account the fact that I was a liability because if we had problems I may not have been able to exit the car as efficiently as most other drivers. There was a briefing to attend before I was allowed to get on the track and lots to take on for the reasons of safety. This wasn’t a video game or Scalextric, this was the real deal.

After our briefing we went out for pointer laps, this is a chance to follow the professionals and find out where we need to be at each point on the track (apex) and also make sure the attitude of the vehicle was set up correctly going into the corners so we didn’t have a problem coming out of the corners. I really did have itchy feet here and wanted to get this over with so I could enjoy the rest of the day and to put more pressure on myself I wanted to complete ten full laps (one lap of the circuit is one mile).

I set off with Ben beside me and it was manic! Cars were coming at us from many different angles in the rear view mirror; I was doing lots of things wrong, braking on bends instead of before, going too wide and not going fast enough. But then after about six laps I got it and I fell in love. The feeling of hitting an apex in the right place at the right speed is fantastic and I did it time and time again. 
Before I knew it my laps were up and it was time to pit in. Thankfully this was done at the right time because my arms were shot, I was tired once more.

This mile was also special for others too. I had invited friends along for passenger laps, with all proceeds going onto our Just Giving page. So I had friends from all over England here to support me but also to have a go on the track themselves and I think they all thoroughly enjoyed it as we plan to do this event again. By popular demand we will be back at Brands Hatch in 2017.

Brands Hatch complete and a picture with WTCC driver, Tom Chilton.

May 2016 - Mile 7.

On the weekend of this mile, this walk to Wembley I had been asked to a charity ball to speak after dinner. The ball was in aid of a local lad called Callum and his need for an all-terrain wheelchair. This wasn’t my idea of fun but I had been asked by our friend Heather and I couldn’t say no, both for Callum, his family and for Heather. Like writing, this doesn’t come easy for me, in fact writing is much easier as I’m not stood to talk and I don’t have faces staring at me.

I had amended a recent blog and had taken extracts from it because it was very fitting. I stood up very nervously and the idea was to ease wallets open and convince people to bid on the up and coming auction for Callum’s chair.  I was shaking with nerves and I could not look over to the table where Michelle sat. I was about to tell a room full of strangers all about living with my condition, the deterioration and how this affects me and how we need to help Callum going forward. I cannot remember the beginning, I remember a few claps and laughs but that’s about it. I do remember closing the speech because I knew I needed this on paper in front of me. “…My condition will not affect the person that I am or want to be, in fact, quite ironically as I get weaker, in many other respects I feel stronger, every day I feel more determined than ever. The dreams we have as children may not be a reality as adults, but we can fight to come close. My desire to keep moving is constantly increased and so it’s up to us, all of us, to fight on behalf of Callum and get him his much needed independence, Thank You” I walked back to Michelle and my chair to a standing ovation.

The next day we made our way to Wembley stadium for another mile and it didn’t feel good from the start. I had some communication problems with Wembley and that had unsettled me. In all the emails to and from all the venues I had asked to help I was greeted with compassion, understanding and a willingness to get involved and with Wembley I felt like I was jumping through hoops. I wanted little, I just needed them to acknowledge that I was near our national stadium, it was as simple as that but there was so much red tape involved that I gave up trying to get cooperation and just took it upon myself to do what I needed to do, walk to the stadium, get some pictures and go home. This was my least favourite mile of the year, it was awkward and uncomfortable. The incline up Wembley Way was incredible, much steeper than I had anticipated and it felt like it took hours to get to the Bobby Moore statue but with help again from good friends, I managed it. This was the first time I nearly came to tears because of pain. This was the biggest fight that I had had between determination and physical ability. I won in the end but only just, I was very glad to put everything about that mile behind me.

Brands Hatch complete and a picture with WTCC driver, Tom Chilton.

30th June – A Royal Reception.

This was to be a very different evening, Michelle and I had been invited to St James palace, London to celebrate 50 years of valuable support from the Royal patron of Muscular Dystrophy UK. HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh hosted a champagne reception at the Palace to mark this wonderful occasion, the event also provided the opportunity to reflect on progress made over the last 50 years, for the charity to share their vision for the future and to “thank us for our tireless efforts and dedication.” It was great to meet so many inspirational people from within the Muscular Dystrophy community and just to have a good talk and share great experiences, most in the face of adversity. Some of these people where just known to me by a name on social media so it was great to put names to faces and for us all to enjoy the evening together. Lastly as HRH circled the room he got to me and told me how he had heard about my adventures and wished me all the best going forward, he then went to talk to Michelle who told him we had no children, when we actually have three great girls, Michelle was either stunned by the occasion or had really enjoyed that champagne! A fantastic evening had by all which ended with a laugh and a blush.

July 2016 – Mile 8.

I was really looking forward to this one! At the start of this you may remember how I said I wanted to fulfil some dreams of my own and that of others well this is what the Wimbledon mile was about. As previously mentioned I have been stepping out with Michelle for over 20 years and every year she watches the Tennis on television and always says “We should go there one day” , so that’s what we decided to do. The same with my running friends that wanted to get onto the Iffley road track and the same also applies to friends who always wanted to go round Brands Hatch. I was and always have been about doing rather than saying, if you want it, stop talking about it and get it done, tick it off.

Also, to add to our excitement we would be joined on this mile again by someone who really did want to do more and take part. Ralph had insisted on joining at some point in the year on a mile. He was adamant that his voice over on the film was not enough and asked to walk to Wimbledon with us, I didn’t say no. Ralph called us on the speaker phone in my car and that was very funny for me, although he doesn’t know this, he kindly directed us in and met us at our blue parking bay, in essence, for about 5 minutes, I had one of the coolest satellite navigation voices on the planet. Ralph is local to the area and that was very fortunate as this mile was not planned, I just thought we could walk half a mile away and then walk back again and that’s what we did, together with Ralph's dogs. Now truth be known this man has played some nasty characters, a murderer, gangster, Dagmer Cleftjaw in Game Of Thrones and even a death eater from the Harry Potter series called Amycus Carrow. Now it turns out Ralph was nothing like his characters, his voice was awesome and so was he. We spoke about our love for football, our children, dogs and his fall out with his local landlord who wasn’t so keen on dogs being in his establishment. Occasionally he was stopped for a photo but like Simon he was more than happy to help. Ralph really took care of us walking this mile; he made sure the pavements were clear as this was one of our busiest with tourists and spectators all over SW19 and also told people who asked what he was doing “Walking a Mile for Muscles with my pal, check out the number to text on the back of his t-shirt, thank you!”. Probably without realising it Ralph helped me start to enjoy this adventure. This mile had made me believe I need to enjoy this more than I am, stop concentrating too hard and the same with worrying, there was no point, I needed to start smiling more, and we were doing something great and that fact had only just hit me.

Ralph bringing my smile back - one of my favourite miles.

July 2016 – Mile 9.

The very next day after Wimbledon, Sunday and we had driven from South West London to North Leeds. Our destination was Headingley Carnegie home of the Leeds Rhinos. I am a huge sports fan and as a family we’ll watch anything at all but this is hands up time, up until this point I have never seen a LIVE game of Rugby League. This mile all came about because of two people, Kirsty Christmas who is Regional Development Manager East Midlands & Yorkshire for Muscular Dystrophy UK and my pal; Jon Howe. Jon had been helping me all year with contacts and many other things but he'd also had heard about my stress with Wembley and told me to email the Rhinos and explain what I was doing this year and to ask if it would be possible to walk to their game against Widnes Vikings.  Also, Kirsty was in touch with Jamie Jones-Buchanan, an England and Great Britain international representative second-rower, who's played his entire professional career to date with Leeds and has won six Super League Grand Finals, three World Club Challenges, three League Leaders Shields and one Challenge Cup Final - all with Leeds. The response both from Phil Daly at the club and JJB was incredible, more than I could have ever wished for, they even sent me a map of a flat, safe, recommended mile for me take on. They helped me and stayed in touch throughout the whole year and with Alex Simmons also helping out I was told that this collaborative effort and team would help raise awareness with me and film our mile for the Leeds Rhinos TV channel and also for ‘Made In Leeds’.

We arrived in Leeds early as we had a breakfast date of banjos (Sandwiches) and coffee with family, lots of coffee! It was great to be rested after our long car journey ready for the mile ahead and what a mile it was, I had no idea how big this was going to be.

Probably the biggest turn out so far congregated at Woodies ale house and it was there that I had my first interview for TV with none other than Stevie Ward, Rhinos loose forward and England International. What a top bloke, all Stevie cared about was me and my story and how we were trying to help others. Just before we set off we were joined on this mile by ex-Leeds United manager; Simon Grayson. Simon was friends with both Josh and Simon and had heard plenty about what I was doing and wanted to walk too.

Stevie Ward - Taking care of business and me.

It was halfway through our mile and I was tired, I needed a pick me up, the weekend of travelling was taking its toll. It was at this point that Josh joined us (as promised) on our walk and he brought an entourage too. We now had plenty of numbers walking down the street with cars stopping and asking what we were doing and why. It felt good to tell them, that was the point. As we walked I got to speak to Josh about fight prep, where he does that, boxing in this country as it stands and many other things and although physically we were miles apart the language and reasoning behind our training was similar, a lot more psychology than you would expect. We got some fantastic pictures outside Headingley and I finished the mile off by having a concluding interview with Stevie at the top of the Carnegie stand. I have to say this, what a club, what an amazing group of people these were. Not only did they support me and give myself, family and friend’s hospitality beyond expectations they also managed to gain friends and supporters for life. That was me done; I am now, at the age of 42, a fully-fledged Rhinos supporter. Myself and Michelle have since seen them play against the London Broncos and since we walked that mile the club got itself off the bottom of the table and secured Super League rugby again for 2017. To add, we have been given a signed shirt and ball to do with what we wish and this will be in a festive raffle at The Duncan pub in Leeds with all proceeds going to MD UK. Thank you to everyone associated with this great club, you should be very proud of who you are and what you have.

With Josh Warrington, friends and family - Rhinos fans for life!


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