Three years ago, when I was 30, I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND). The disease degenerates your muscles, stripping you of control and mobility, trapping your active, untouched mind in a paralysed body. There are a lot of unknowns about the condition, but we do know that 50% of the people diagnosed with MND die within 2 years. There is currently no cure.
At the time of the diagnosis, I was living in London, pursuing my career as a fine wine and champagne buyer and living with my then-girlfriend and now wife, Yvette. I made the swift decision to come home to Edinburgh to be closer to friends and family.
Three years on from that diagnosis and my life has changed dramatically. The physical symptoms of my condition are undoubtedly more pronounced, but that has not stopped me from wanting to raise awareness and funds for research into a cure for Motor Neurone Disease. In the summer of 2020, along with two of my brothers and four friends, we cycled the North Coast 500 in only four days. Several punctures and 10,000 midge bites later we crossed the finish line raising over £125,000 for research into Motor Neurone Disease. I received a Points of Light award from Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well the recognition of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for this.
It’s not in my DNA to take things lying down. In her speech at my wedding, my mother (also a Watsonian, former Head Girl and later Governor of the School) described me as someone “perpetually in motion”. George Watson’s College and its ethos encouraged this side of my personality and taught me to seize the opportunities that were presented to me as well as the deep value of loyalty and friendship. Whilst I admit I wasn’t the most conventional Watsonian - my hobbies were snowboarding, breakdancing and customising my uniform rather than rugby and hockey - the values I was taught at school from the moment I arrived as a fresh-faced ten-year-old in Mr Salmond’s Primary 6 class, to when I left, have served me well in life and helped me take on what life has to throw at me.
This leads me to my current challenge, which is organised in the name of former British Lion Doddie Weir who also has MND. The Doddie Active Inter-District Challenge or #DoddieAid is mass participation, a team competition to cover as many miles between now and the Calcutta Cup match on 6th February. I am honoured to have been asked to Captain Team Edinburgh and it is my responsibility along with several others to recruit as many people to my team, at the time of writing there are around 3500, but I’d like many more. All the other team leaders are former Scotland Captains with a substantial public profile and for me who has a busy full-time job and a 7-month pregnant wife it has been a challenge getting the word out there!
We are mid-table on the leader-board, but I know with a bit of Ex Corde Caritas we would be doing even better. It would be an exaggeration to call myself a certified name in the world of Scottish rugby and the last time I played rugby was for the 4’s in S3 and having insisted on taking a conversion to win the game and managed to kick the tee over the posts whilst the ball went straight up in the air! I kept snowboarding after that.
The Watsonian community however has been an immense and regular help. On my team, there is Sir Chris Hoy (Class of 1994), Scott Hastings (Class of 1982), Adam Hastings (Class of 2014) and Stuart ‘Rambo’ McInally (Class of 2008), who have been raising awareness and helping get people on board.
#DoddieAid has already raised over £500,000 for MND research. Of course, I am selfish in hoping that the money raised from #DoddieAid will go into vital research that I can directly benefit from. I want to see my child in their maroon blazer one day. But these funds will directly help people and families living with the disease all over the UK. So, I ask Watsonians far and wide to get on board, join Team Edinburgh and help us find a cure for Motor Neurone Disease. And, get fit and have fun in the process.