It’s been one hell of a year for John Collins and his brother Pete who are together celebrating the completion of their gruelling charity challenge.
John, the 34-year-old, a senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, and his brother Pete, 30, a youth academy coach at Burton Albion football club along with their friend Ant Oxley, have travelled 2,014 miles all over Europe in loving memory of their late dad Stephen, in a bid to raise funds for other Motor Neurone Disease (MND) sufferers.
I meet team member John inside a lively 18th century manor hotel bar where he takes time out of his busy schedule to take a breather and to sip on a well-earned gin and tonic, to reflect on the team’s ‘epic’ journey over the past year.
The charity challenge has seen them cycle from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, ride around England’s ‘Big six’ cricket grounds and endure a 45km run split over nine different countries within 24 hours all that within just 12months, smashing the estimated target of £30,000 in eight months.
John says: “£50,000 is a reasonable figure to aim for now.”
Their dad was a lecturer in electrical engineer at Burton Collage, a rugby enthusiast and a loving husband. He was diagnosed with MND in 2007. MND is a rare condition that progressively weakens the central nervous system. By the following year, he was unable to talk, walk, eat, drink or carry out even the most basic of tasks, in which he sadly never saw 2009 aged 58.
John Says: “There are a few drugs which alleviate some symptoms. But when you’re told you have MND the next thing you hear is, we’re sorry there is nothing we can do.”
Each diagnosis is a death sentence and the average prognosis is 14-18 months.
“Watching your father go through the disease is just horrendous; to spend minutes on end trying to figure out what he is trying to say to you was so upsetting,” says John, “Seeing him scared to go to sleep because he was frightened he wouldn’t wake up was heart-breaking.”
The thing that hit him the hardest was being so close.
“We were so alike, he wasn’t just my dad he was my best friend.”
“Unlike other illnesses which have similar symptoms, most carry a form of mental deterioration where they become unaware of what is happening to them but unfortunately for MND this remains unaffected so my dad knew exactly what he could do last week but not this week.”
John and Pete’s friend Ant Oxley, 40, who saw his friend’s husband die from the disease at only 27, also wanted to do something for MND. When they found out he had been planning something similar they got together to discuss what could happen.
John says: “We came up with the idea of 2014 in 2014. The rules were simple: 2014 in 2014 all had to be done together, all had to be done in a recognised event. That’s why it’s taken a full year because we don’t all live in the same place.
“Looking back on our epic adventure the high point for me was the last two miles of the gruelling Lands’ End to John o’ Groats, when we arrived just as the sun was setting. It was deathly quiet and the two lads who joined us that day had broken off so we could finish alone.
“As we came haring into the finish Pete’s wife Cecilia who was the support driver had decked out the van with signs and streamers, it was truly special.”
Pete adds: “That Cecilia has been his emotional rock, sacrificing a lot for us.”
“But, maybe above all the personal experiences, the people we have met along the way who suffered from MND were the most powerful.”
Ray Lucas, a sufferer from Derby, went to see them on the European marathon and the same again in the Derby 10k. John said: “when he looks you in the eye and he struggles to get out a thank you but battles it out, that reminds you what it’s all about.”
Early this year, John’s personal battles of blood, sweat and tears only became harder with his private life also hitting a turbulent time. John’s now ex-wife moved out days after training began and then confirmed it was definitely over a month before they did their first run. “So not only did I hold down a fulltime job, organise and do the charity challenge I also spent this year selling my house and dealing with divorce papers.
“But when I’m going through a rough patch I think back to how my dad was and think it can’t be that bad and I just suck it up and get on with it.
“A part of me thought if I did a good job and finished everything hitting all the targets I could win her back, but it’s not quite the way it works. This challenge gave me focus, the divorce would have been much harder without it.
“I don’t grieve for my father any more I grieve on behalf of my mum who won’t get to spend their retirement they planned together, and it upsets me that her life didn’t end up how she wanted it. The reason I don’t grieve for him as having my dad for 28-years was better than having a whole lifetime with anyone else. I wouldn’t have picked anyone else out of a line-up of the rest of the world.”
John describes the destructive forces of MND: