Brentwood rugby player, Alex Gibson, on Challenging Motor Neurone Disease

Training in the pedalo (photo courtesy of Challenge MND)

Training in the pedalo (photo courtesy of Challenge MND) - Credit: Archant

Diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease before turning 40, Brentwood rugby player, Alex Gibson, founded Challenging MND and began a journey towards a Guinness World Record

Alex with Natalie Shaw at Heybridge (photo courtesy of Challenging MND)

Alex with Natalie Shaw at Heybridge (photo courtesy of Challenging MND) - Credit: Archant

In 2002, lifelong Brentwood resident Alex Gibson represented Great Britain in the decathlon. A qualified forensic scientist, nutritional therapist and personal trainer, currently working in Capital Management for AIG insurance, Alex is a high-achieving man who knew what path he had to take 16 years later to deal with the diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease.

When his friends organised a charity rugby match to support him, there was only one way for Alex to direct the proceeds.

‘I was always uneasy that the guys who were organising a rugby match on my behalf wanted to raise the money for myself,’ he explains. ‘I had always had a dream of starting this charity and therefore the funds which were raised I was able to put 100% towards starting the charity. To provide relief to those diagnosed with MND who don’t have the opportunity to speak or move is the biggest factor and gives us all a huge sense of satisfaction.’

Attracting celebrity support from the likes of Frank Bruno, Jimmy Doherty and SAS: Who Dares Wins stars, Ollie Ollerton and Jason Fox, Challenging MND has made huge leaps in raising awareness of this shocking terminal condition during lockdown.

Alex Gibson completing the double Marathon (photo: courtesy of Challenging MND)

Alex Gibson completing the double Marathon (photo: courtesy of Challenging MND) - Credit: Archant

In August, Alex raised £4,000 walking over 52 miles in 24 hours in a double marathon from Brentwood to Bishops Stortford, a truly remarkable achievement of over 120,000 steps.

Later that month he took to the River Thames on a pedalo with three team mates. Breaking the previous Guinness World Record of over four days for the fastest time to travel the 128 miles, Alex’s team completed the challenge in just two days, 15 hours and two minutes, despite poor weather conditions, raising £14,000.

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‘Determination and team spirit were the key factors,’ explains Alex, who was confident of success and proud of the way his team created history. ‘We also sacrificed a lot of sleep and did the challenge on minimal amounts. There were no surprises, as without sounding arrogant we had a benchmark to chase.’ 

Training for such ventures is never easy, yet as sufferers endure physical deterioration the mind remains sharp.

‘Maintaining your health and fitness is something I have taken pride in. It’s a disciplined lifestyle which enables you to move to the next challenge with minimal discomfort as you already have a very stable fitness platform in which to ensure you can move onto the next challenge.

‘MND has meant that I struggle to maximise my fitness at times, but it is the cruel card you’ve been dealt in life and you need to be resilient and adapt to changing circumstances as best you can.’ 

To understand how such motivated figures manage a life change like this, Alex, now 43, points to his, ‘need to maximise my deteriorating condition as best I can,’ and, ‘to be positive and resilient as far as is possible’. 

His inspirational organisation helps enable those coping with MND to make powerful memories through physical experiences and it has refused to let a world pandemic halt plans.

Chief executive of Challenging MND, Andrew Cappaert, explains how the charity has navigated the events of 2020. ‘Obviously, the current pandemic is a huge challenge, but we have been able to be creative with our fundraising and have been fortunate enough to replace cancelled events with other opportunities. Although this has ultimately affected our ability to fundraise to our maximum, we have however been truly amazed at people’s generosity in such tough financial times.’

With many people battling different stages of the disease, there are several ways Andrew and Alex aim to help.

‘Although our beneficiaries have taken on challenges, the whole aim is to give them an incredible day which they will never forget. Therefore, it doesn’t always have to be a physical challenge they take part in, it can be something such as; a hot air balloon ride, dinner at the Shard, a night at the theatre etc.’

In September, 34-year-old Natalie Shaw completed a 14-mile pedalo challenge along the River Chelmer from Springfield to Heybridge Basin in seven-and-a-half hours, raising £2,000.

‘It wasn’t the easiest river in the world to get the pedalo on, but we got there in the end,’ reveals Andrew. ‘We had tremendous support all the way along the river. It was quite an emotional finish, after all, Natalie had spent eight hours on the pedalo achieving a feat which would have been a big ask for an able-bodied person, let alone someone with MND. She was incredible!

‘Our big challenge is to bring more beneficiaries on board so that they can experience the incredible days we have had with the people who we have already helped,’ adds Andrew.

If ever there was a time to put current anxieties into perspective, Alex’s outlook should force us to reflect.

‘There are many obstacles to overcome; emotionally, physically and mentally. The ability to maintain a positive approach is key and underpins my philosophy in life. The quicker I moved to the acceptance part of my diagnosis, the quicker I could move on and enjoy my new future.’

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