My name is Martin Hywood; I’m living with and adjusting to a life with Muscular Dystrophy. I decided to raise funds and awareness for Muscular Dystrophy UK. In 2016 I took on the biggest challenge of my life. The challenge was to ‘Move a Mile for Muscles’ to iconic sporting arenas and events in England. This was to fulfil some dreams of my own and that of others. Despite my condition I pushed myself to the limit both physically and mentally. Lots of family and friends came with me and here is the story of our year…
|The family - Skye, Olivia, Myself, Michelle and Lucie.|
There is no reasoning or training behind thinking of a good idea, I’ve tried sitting in a room, in silence with a pen and pad before and come up with nothing. I just let it ride, I know that I have to do something to try to help myself and then I just see what happens. It’s usually when we’re least expecting it that our best ideas come to us and that’s what you have to prepare yourself for, be receptive and then lock that idea in and write it down somewhere too (I usually text myself!).
In the autumn of 2015 I was watching ‘A Question of Sport’ late at night, with a beer in my hand. There was a question on the show about stadia in the UK and also a reference to the Olympics and that was my ‘lightbulb’ moment. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and the reasons why I wanted to do it.
I sent myself a text to look at the following morning, it read… “Move a Mile For Muscles to Iconic sporting arenas, stadiums and events all over England. Get people to come with me and take in some of these events too”. Wow! Even by my standards this was raising the bar. I got to work that day and immediately asked some good friends to help me with all my plans and naturally because of who they are they all jumped at the chance.
Again, late at night shortly after this first thought I had another one. I had become pals with actor Ralph Ineson on Twitter and I was wondering if I would be able to use his voice for the idea I had. I sent Ralph a message asking for his email address and unbelievably he gave me it. I left it a day or two then sent Ralph my idea… “Could you read a script for me if I wrote it? You speak about the downward spiralling effect that Muscular Dystrophy has on me and then we convince the audience that I’m not prepared to be beaten and this is what we’re going to do about it – starts dark then gets lighter, bit like wizard of Oz both in photography and mood”. This is a very well-known actor with one of the most famous voices in the industry, there’s no way he’ll agree BUT if you don’t ask then you’ll never know. Ralph replied within the hour… “Martin, I’ve read your blogs and appreciate what you're trying to achieve, it would be an honour” – Gobsmacked!
This now meant I would have to write a script for Ralph, get a film crew to film it and learn how to act (a little) and all the while I was frantically contacting sporting venues up and down the country asking for permission to be on their property to make this happen.
I often get by in life simply by luck and it was just by chance that I got speaking to some of my old school mates who just so happened to make films and they had some equipment to help me get this done - and on Wednesday 30th December it was complete. Ralph had done the voice over, Paul Adams and Steve Richmond filmed and produced the short film to promote my event. This was all completed just in time for me to take on my first mile at the birth place of the Paralympic movement.
1st Jan 2016 – Mile 1.
I remember it so well, it was absolutely freezing! It was also the morning after the night before - but not for me. This was part of the promise to myself, I was taking this so seriously that I had not allowed myself any time to celebrate the New Year with loved ones. I had to take this seriously from the get-go, new year, new me and all that. I couldn’t have the January gym bunny attitude of signing up for something, going for six weeks and then letting it slide. This really was it, the start of what was to come and this was my bench mark. The very first mile consisted of a team of three, myself, my son-in-law Nick and our middle daughter Olivia. Olivia was there reluctantly to take pictures as I think she would have rather been with the rest of the world, wrapped up in duvets on the couch watching movies. The streets were asleep and it was mid-morning, we set off on the adventure that would get every single emotion out of me during the course of the year. I was slower than I thought I’d be and I struggled more than I thought I would, but we spoke, that’s what I do on these walks when I’m nervous, apprehensive, tired - or all three! The mile was started at 11:00 and we had walked it by 11:45 - I was shattered. I was stuck between jubilation and exhaustion already. As I said, this was my bench mark, going forward I knew what pain and discomfort to expect and how long this would last; also I could take on recovery time too and try to work out how long that would last, turns out that it was most of the year. I gratefully thanked Nick and Olivia took some pictures and it was now up to me to show social media my short film and share my Just Giving page. We were out the blocks.
|Out of the blocks with my Son-In-Law; Nick|
This year would surprise me in ways I wasn’t expecting, up’s and down’s that I wasn’t prepared for and they started in earnest in early February…
Feb 2016 - Mile 2.
If you know me then you’ll know I have a passion for documentaries and History, often the channel of choice for me when I get the TV to myself. I’ll watch anything from resurrecting a barn-find muscle car to people pushing themselves to the edge and beyond. Again, late at night I was immersed in telly and an advert was asking if you could ‘Make Your World Bigger’ on the Discovery channel and if so, how? So I tweeted the channel and told them my plans, I didn’t really say much, I just shared our short film. From there I got down to the final 15 in a National competition and won a back pack. The three winners would go on to win a cash prize to make their wish happen and would get some coverage on social media; I kept going with this and asking people to share my pledge. Things then got a little surreal; I received a phone call just before lunch at work one day. It was as you would expect some dramatic pause and then the news… “You’ve won! We will be sending you a cheque for five thousand quid! Who would you like this made payable to?” I had previously had this discussion with my wife and our girls and we had made the decision that if we did win this we would immediately donate this money to the charity and that’s what we did. It was sent to Muscular Dystrophy UK and an offline donation was made to my page and I increased my target because I had just smashed through my initial £6000 goal. I couldn't stop smiling; the pressure was off me a little but my biggest battle now was a physical one.
The morning of the 7th February, a very dark Sunday morning with a sky full of grey. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. The rain was relentless; I had lost my charity t-shirt that had been especially printed for me and my car broke down on the way to Oxford.
I was on my way to stand on the shoulders of giants, to walk this mile on the famous Iffley road track where Roger Bannister had broken the four minute mile on 6th May, 1954. I have become so intrigued and interested with sports people that are mostly alone in their event and how they overcome everything that comes with that. Some might say that Roger Bannister was not alone and he was helped by pace makers, similar to that of a boxer with his team in the corner of the ring. They were Chris Chataway (co-founder of the Guinness book of records) and Chris Brasher (sports journalist and co-founder of the London Marathon); these three men were a band of brothers and had a lot to prove as Bannister's training techniques were considered controversial and most certainly unorthodox for a runner.
I was shattered and flustered before we had even started and also feeling intimidated by the prospect before me. The track was huge, I mean I did have an idea of what to expect but it was beyond that. It was mile two of the year and I was thinking about whether I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I really did need a brave face and whole lot of determination. I got started and it was so tough, I have no idea why but everything below my chest wanted me to stop, my back was aching, my legs were burning and my feet were floppy. I really was holding onto Michelle, hoping to be pulled along. However, the Oxford mile had encouraged others to get up and get out with me, lots of family and lots of friends. Then at the end of the second of four laps a special young man had turned up to show support too. Tommy is 10 years old and also has Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, Tommy had come along with his Mum, Hayley to join us and put this mile to bed. That was the boost I needed, Tommy’s smile and enthusiasm spurred me on that morning and I was so relieved that I had found the power to continue and cross that very famous finish line. The money kept rising and people were now talking about this challenge on social media, I got home that afternoon at about 14:30 and slept until the next morning.
|Tommy, family and friends seeing me over the finish line at Iffley Rd, Oxford.|
March 2016 – Mile 3.
On the evening of Wednesday, 2nd of March I received a lovely message from our friend Charlotte, “You encourage me to remain happy and positive. Thank you. Keep on doing what you’re doing” there was nothing unusual about this, Charlotte (AKA Char) was a big supporter of the things that I did as she herself had Muscular Dystrophy and was a character in the community. I had been getting lots of messages and like I said nothing unusual. Sadly on the 3rd of March I got a message from Char's Brother - she'd passed away. Char was 41 years old, one year younger than me. My world had just stopped, my heart sank and I had no way to control the tears rolling down my face. Char was my pal; she was a bright light and a beacon of joy. At previous fundraisers she would have her alcohol of choice and her straw to drink it from, she did not conform to what people expected of a disabled person, she went out and saw the world, she went to more music gigs than most and took pride in the fact she always got the best view, at the front! I’ll never forget Char and she will always be a catalyst for me to help others going forward.
On the 19th of March we descended upon the Oval Cricket ground in London, Conveniently it was exactly one mile to walk around this venue twice. We had also been invited onto the pitch for pictures afterwards. Like many venues, the staff at the Oval had welcomed us with open arms and had asked what they could do to help us to help others. There was a few of us, we had been joined by the Hill family. Archie Hill was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy in 2008 at just 3 years old. Duchenne is a severe degenerative muscle-wasting disease. Selflessly, Archie and his family had asked to ‘Move a Mile for Muscles’ with me to raise much-needed awareness and funds. Archie has put himself up to help others more than once. Alongside other boys with Duchenne, Archie and the group took their fight for Translarna (the first treatment approved for the underlying cause of DMD) to the very top and knocked on 10 Downing Street asking for answers on access to rare disease drugs. Just like Tommy, I consider Archie to be courageous and he should be an inspiration to many at such a young age. We were also joined by our friend, Steve and his wife Kerrie, Steve has Becker Muscular Dystrophy but was up for the challenge.
Again, I need to talk to distract myself from the pain and this mile was over before I knew it but again I was full of gratitude and thanks for all that had joined us, I was starting to realise that this would never had been possible without the encouragement from friends and the ongoing support was priceless, I really wish I could have bottled that. After the Oval in London I knew that I would get a break, a clear month off, time to do a lot of nothing. I have never felt like I have needed a break more than now, all reserves, in every respect were spent and gone.
|Surrounded by the inspirational Hill family, Steve and Kerrie on the Oval cricket ground.|
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.
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.
|Putting on a brave face - Wembley.|
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!|
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|
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.
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|
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.
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.”