It’s easy when you’re fit, healthy, mobile and well, to take your body’s ability to do what you ask of it for granted.
An athlete often must fight their brain and thought processes to push themselves through physical barriers to win, and to be psychologically strong enough to perform on the world stage without crumbling under pressure.
Imagine then if your thoughts and brain were willing, but for no reason at all your body started to shut down, not do what you ask of it, and there was absolutely nothing you could do about it.
Motor neurone disease (MND) causes the muscles that enable us to move, speak, swallow and breathe, to gradually stop working, and there is no cure.
MND is known as ALS in some countries (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is the most common type of MND), and in the United States they call it Lou Gehrig disease (after the well-known baseball player of the 20s and 30s, who was one of the first high profile personalities to die of the disease aged 37).
Diagnosis brings with it a life expectancy of less than three years, although arguably with some cruelty the disease does not impair mental function; the motor function of the central nervous system is destroyed, but the mind remains fully aware to the end.
Put simply, the neurons in the brain stem that are supposed to send the messages to the muscles, don’t, and it’s only in hindsight that symptoms and signs become obvious.
In Lou Gehrig’s case a pronounced drop in form and hitting power, for no reason his coaches, trainers or himself could discern, finally led him to a hospital for tests and a consequently heart breaking diagnosis. MND can affect anyone and its cause is entirely unknown. It’s not contagious and there are no risk factors or predisposing genes. Every week, another two people are diagnosed and in 2011, one in every 200 deaths in New Zealand was due to MND.
The infamous ‘ice bucket challenge’ that did the rounds of social media a few years ago, became a successful awareness program and global fundraiser for the cause.
In New Zealand “Walk 2 D’Feet MND” is the annual fundraiser for MND New Zealand, with walks held in 16 towns and cities all over the country on Sunday 12 November 2017. In Hamilton, the walk is around Lake Rotoroa, starting from Innes Common at 10am.
Half of the money raised at each walk goes to the MND Research Fund to encourage research in New Zealand. The remaining funds are a major contributor to the donation income that MND New Zealand depends upon to continue its vital free service that helps sufferers and their families with advice, support and care.
MND is an extraordinarily debilitating disease that can be very isolating for people and their carers, and the Walk 2 D’Feet MND events aim to show people they aren’t alone.
They connect and empower people and families who are facing a tremendous challenge, and people from all walks of life find strength together, united by their experiences with MND. Walkers not directly affected by MND can create hope for those that are by fundraising – financing research to find a cure is the only hope.
Go to mnda.org.nz/walk/ to find out about the walk, buy a ticket and a t-shirt, and make a donation. And come and see me at the Hamilton walk, so I can thank you for supporting this cause that is very close to my heart.
I shudder to think about the social media trolling that may have happened had Lou Gehrig been alive today and had an obvious pronounced and unexplained drop in sporting form. So next time an athlete is not performing on the world stage as you might expect, perhaps first stop and think, and be happy for them, and yourself, that you can at least move, speak, swallow and breathe.
You only have one life, live it to the very best of your ability.
About MND New Zealand
MND New Zealand works with people living with MND to enable them to have the best quality of life possible.
It provides a crucial free support service that helps people with MND access the medical expertise and equipment they need, and provides consistent support through all stages of the disease.
MND New Zealand is a small organisation that depends upon fundraising and donations to continue this service. Only 10% of its funding comes from the Ministry of Health.