Former rugby star Mel Deane is set to embark on a 700-mile charity cycle-walk for MND – and it’s all in memory of Doddie Weir
When the idea was floated to Mel Deane two months ago about taking part in a gruelling 700 mile seven-day charity cycle-walk from Edinburgh to Paris, he didn’t need very long to mull it over before accepting the challenge.
After all, this was for Doddie Weir.
The hugely popular Scotland and British and Irish Lion second row died in November last year from Motor Neurone Disease (MND).
Doddie publicly announced his diagnosis in June 2017 to coincide with global MND Awareness Day. A few months later he set up his own foundation (My Name’5 Doddie Foundation) to raise funds for research into finding a cure for this terminal disease, and to help those living with the condition.
“I wanted to get involved because I was good pals with Doddie and I played with a lot of Scottish lads up in Sale, who were besties with Doddie. What a gentleman he was,”
Like fellow rugby player and MND sufferer, Rob Burrows, Doddie also did an incredible amount to raise awareness for a condition that progressively damages part of the nervous system.
It’s a devastating disease which slowly but inevitably robs a person of their ability to walk, eat and talk, and leaves many a prisoner in their own body. Life expectancy is generally between two and five years from diagnosis.
To help with the on-going fundraising cause, Mel has signed up to be part of former Scotland and Wasps winger Kenny Logan’s Rugby World Cup Challenge – to cycle and walk from Edinburgh to Paris and in doing so raise £555,555 for Doddie’s foundation. Five was Doddie’s jersey number. At the time of writing, more than £177,000 has already been raised.
Kenny and Mel will be joined by the likes of Kenny’s wife Gaby, Kirsty Gallacher and Jason Fox, star of SAS: Who Dares Wins. Each day of the challenge will start off with a long bike ride, before the group get their walking boots on to clock up a few more miles.
Day one is the most arduous when Mel and the team will rack up 110 miles in the saddle and 25 miles on foot, as they make the journey south from Murrayfield Stadium to Newcastle Falcons, one of Doddie’s former clubs.
They’ll eventually arrive in Paris on 7 October where they’ll make a very special delivery to the Stade De France – the match ball for the Ireland-Scotland World Cup match.
“It’s a bit punchy (the itinerary), but it’ll be great fun,” says Mel, who played for Harlequins, Richmond, Sale Sharks, Connacht and Ireland A. “I’m looking forward to it, but I’m a little bit apprehensive that my bum isn’t in giblets by the time I get to Paris.
“There’s a couple of people on there who are characters and it’s all about making memories, and Doddie was a legend.”
“Obviously you’re going to have to dig in when there are 110-mile days, but I’ve done a couple of 40s and I did a 50-mile on Saturday on my own,”
Mel came up against Doddie numerous times during his long and distinguished playing career, and got to know him during his time at Sale, through some of his Scottish-Sharks teammates. Ex-Scotland international Bryan Redpath being one.
“I wanted to get involved because I was good pals with Doddie and I played with a lot of Scottish lads up in Sale, who were besties with Doddie. What a gentleman he was,” said Mel. “It’s a tragic illness to be struck down with, and a lot of lads from the rugby fraternity have had MND, so I jumped at the chance to get involved.”
He adds: “I played against Doddie when he was playing for Newcastle and he was a scourge of the lineout, stealing our ball. “I remember one cup game he gave Bernard Jackman an awful time. Poor old Birch was getting the ball stolen and ripped all the time.
“Doddie said he’d never had such good ball at ‘two’ in his life, and Bernard Jackman was playing for Sale, not Newcastle! “He was that kind of character – he’d have a laugh whatever.”
While Mel admits to a little bit of trepidation about what lies ahead, he’s no stranger to a bike and charity cycle rides. He’s previously completed a number of two-day rides to rugby grounds across the country – Exeter Chiefs, Leicester Tigers and Wasps – in aid of the Harlequins Foundations. For this challenge, though, he’s been kitted out with a top-of-the-range £5,000 bike.
“They gave me a green one and it looks the business – it’s a great bit of kit,” says Mel, who has carved out a successful career as a personal trainer since retiring from professional rugby, and can list Niall Horan among his clients. “When I get back on my heap of a bike, I’ll be so disappointed!”
Kenny’s Rugby World Cup Challenge will undoubtedly be his longest and most arduous cycle.
In preparation, he’s been building up his training over the past two months and recently completed a 60-mile cycle with Kenny and Jason.
“Obviously you’re going to have to dig in when there are 110-mile days, but I’ve done a couple of 40s and I did a 50-mile on Saturday on my own,” he said. “Just keep turning those pedals over and you’ll be grand!”
The final walk into Paris and into the Stade De France is one that Mel is particularly looking forward to, with the city likely to be full of Ireland and Scotland rugby supporters soaking up the atmosphere before the big game. “It’s going to be great – it’s going to be fabulous,” he said.
On the pitch, the outcome is likely to be crucial to both side’s quarter-final aspirations. “And it’s so exciting with Ireland playing well and I’m hoping all goes well, and the Irish smooch past the Scottish no problem at all,” says Mel. “I’m obviously pegging Ireland, they’re solid under pressure. But the Scottish can play.”
Regardless of the outcome, by the time Mel, Kenny and the team take their seats in the stand to watch the action unfold, they’ll hopefully have hit their fundraising target, and in doing so helped edge us a little bit closer to finding a cure for MND.
To donate go to www.justgiving.com and search for ‘Kenny Logans Rugby World Cup Challenge’