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Haverhill man with Motor Neurone Disease completes London Marathon in a wheelchair




A well-known youth football coach and runner from Haverhill who was diagnosed with a devastating disease last year has praised the community for its support after he completed the virtual London Marathon in a wheelchair.

Neil Mustoe was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in July 2019, but despite losing the use of his legs last summer and having to use a wheelchair, he and his partner Helen George were still determined to complete the famous marathon, having both been awarded a place in the 2020 race for the first time.

So the duo embarked on a challenge to complete the 26.2 miles in 24 hours and in the process raise money and awareness for the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA).

Neil Mustoe and Helen George with friends and supporters outside Prezzo in Haverhill after completing the virtual London Marathon on Sunday. Submitted picture
Neil Mustoe and Helen George with friends and supporters outside Prezzo in Haverhill after completing the virtual London Marathon on Sunday. Submitted picture

So far they have raised in excess of £8,000, having set an initial target of £500.

Every hour, on the hour, starting at midnight on Saturday, they set off from Helen’s house near the railway walk and went to the leisure centre and back, a circuit of 1.25 miles.

But along the way they were joined, every hour by four different members from Haverhill Running Club (HRC), of which Neil and Helen are members.

Neil Mustoe and Helen George representing Haverhill Running Club at a race. Submitted picture
Neil Mustoe and Helen George representing Haverhill Running Club at a race. Submitted picture

Neil, who turned 50 this year, was keen to praise the help his challenge received from Trevor Bunch, the running club’s secretary and education and development coach.

“Haverhill Running Club made sure we had someone with us every hour on the hour,” said Neil.

“We filled it with some people and there were 80 spaces left and Trevor put it on the (club’s) website and it was filled within an hour.

Neil and Helen with their sons from their previous relationships at Neil's 50th birthday. From left, back row George, Ben and Joe. From left, front row: Louis and Jamie. Submitted picture
Neil and Helen with their sons from their previous relationships at Neil's 50th birthday. From left, back row George, Ben and Joe. From left, front row: Louis and Jamie. Submitted picture

“Every hour there should have been four people from the running club joining us. It was amazing.

“There was even, like a horse joined us for a leg. There were banners and cheerleaders. We did it in 20 hours and 32 minutes.”

Two running club members even drove from Beck Row, near Mildenhall, to take part on what was a night of wet and windy weather, while another member, Shirley Fowler, joined them for one leg despite also taking on two long distance runs over the weekend.

Neil Mustoe in race action. Submitted picture (42606039)
Neil Mustoe in race action. Submitted picture (42606039)

“I think they (the HRC) deserve huge credit, a massive amount of credit, especially Trevor because we couldn’t have done it without them,” said Neil.

Neil and Helen’s fund-raising also received help from The Plough, in Birdbrook, where his nephews Phil and Matt Parsons work.

The pub’s licensee, Jackie Vickers, has been selling Nethergate Stour Valley Gold Ale with 100 per cent of the selling cost going to the charity.

Neil Mustoe met Olympic Jessica Ennis at Vitality event in London 2018
Neil Mustoe met Olympic Jessica Ennis at Vitality event in London 2018

The contingent from the pub were also out to help Neil with his quest on Sunday.

Most of the money raised so far through the donation page set up for Sunday’s marathon has also come through members of HRC who have been putting whatever they have mustered individually through sponsorships or pledges into the account.

Neil, who lives in Orkney Close, Haverhill, said: “It’s massive. It’s not really about me any more. It’s about the whole community. The club have brought the community together.”

The Motor Neurone Disease Association
The Motor Neurone Disease Association

HRC has also committed itself to contributing 5,000 miles to the MNDA’s Mission 5000.

The challenge aims to get people to pledge one mile each, which they can complete by running, walking or even scootering if they wish, towards the 5,000, which represents one mile for every person living with MND in the UK.

Helen and Neil’s five sons from their previous relationships, George, Ben, Joe (who joined via Facetime from Brighton University), Louis and Jamie, also joined them for the final lap of Sunday’s marathon, which ended with them being greeted by well over 100 people outside Prezzo.

Neil said: “It was fitting that they pushed us to the finish. The end was very emotional. I just crumbled when I got to the end. We were both just shattered.”

Neil had coached youth football for 14 years, with his clubs including Grampian Gunners, Kedington Youth FC and, most recently, Haverhill Rovers, where he coached six to 18-year-.olds.

But he had to stop the coaching in the summer of 2019 after he was diagnosed with MND.

On being diagnosed he said: “We were absolutely flying. I didn’t expect that, put it that way.

“I was still racing and running but every now and again I would be tripping over and it took months to get anything done with the NHS and in the end my boss (Neil works for Adcock Refrigeration and Air Conditioning) paid for me to go private .

“It knocked me flying for a while. I was like ‘oh my God’.

“My prognosis is; I’ve had this for 15 months. It takes 40 per cent of you within a year and 50 per cent within two to three years so now, I’m reasonably fit, I’m still working full-time and still driving, It could suddenly jump on me, it could not. “Nobody knows. Every case is different.”

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