The Wokingham Paper

So that’s why Wokingham’s Elvis was wearing trainers and not blue suede shoes …

Simon Williams
Simon Williams completed his multiday charity run in Wokingham Market Place on Saturday morning. He was raising money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. His family, Sarah, Jackson (9) and Rosie (3) were there to celebrate his achievement. Picture: Steve Smyth for Wokingham.Today

ALL good runners know you need trainers and not blue suede shoes, but Wokingham fundraiser Simon Williams must have been tempted.

On Saturday, he completed a week-long challenge that was for the heart: he ran 72km (45 miles) in memory of his mother, who had passed away in July. She was 72, and had motor neurone disease for the past two-and-a-half years.

Simon says that before the diagnosis, she had been one of the fittest 70-year-olds he had ever met.

Motor neurone disease is a fatal, rapidly progressing disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.

It attacks the nerves that control movement so muscles no longer work. MND does not usually affect the senses such as sight, sound, and feeling.

And it kills a third of people within a year and more than half within two years of diagnosis.

For Simon, pledging his love was a real challenge, as before lockdown he had barely ran any distance at all, but he quickly built himself up and ran to a finishing line of Market Place, to the bemusement of shoppers as he was dressed as Elvis, his Mum’s favourite singer.

“My Mum went to the gym three or four times a week since she was probably in her 30s,” he says. “Then at the age of 70, she was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, which shuts down your body. She lost the ability to speak, move around and eat.

“Sadly she passed away about eight weeks ago, on July 20.

“She was a big Elvis fan and I was thinking that I needed something to distract myself and throw my energy into, but I thought it would be a nice tribute to my Mum to get fit.”

He told a few friends, and then some more, and then “it quickly turned into reality”.

Like all of us, lockdown presented particular challenges for Simon. “It was really hard, because not only could I not see my Mum for probably about 10 weeks early in the year, I also noticed a big, big change in her as she pretty much deteriorated a lot in that time,” he says.

“It was very hard, and it was also really hard on my Dad, who had to be full-time carer for my Mum after the nurses stopped coming in, and we had to stop being able to go and visit.

“He really had no support network other than on the end of the telephone, so that was really tough.

“Thankfully, we managed to see my Mum again about two months before she eventually passed away, and we got to spend as much time as we could do within the rules.”

As he ran into Wokingham town centre dressed as his Mum’s favourite singer, he was spurred on by people clapping and cheering: “there were lots of people honking their horns, and people came out of their houses too,” Simon says.

“It really helped.”

And friends have been really generous, donating nearly double his target of £720 – £10 for every kilometre run.

“I’m delighted because that will make a big difference to other people with motor neurone disease,” he said. “Some of that money will go towards trying to find a cure, some will go to support people currently living with it, that’s really good.”

In normal times, Simon is one of Wokingham’s musical stalwarts, hosting a regular music night at Broad Street Tavern, but it’s on hold due to the pandemic. However, on Sunday he sang at the Woodley Vegan Market.

“It’s been nice,” he says. “It’s the first gig I’ve done since lockdown. I’ve done a few online ones, but it’s really nice to be with a little bit of normality.”

Frances Morgan, Community Fundraiser at the MND Association, said: ‘’We are extremely grateful to Simon for his generous support and determination by running an incredible 72km in a week, dressed as Elvis.

“This was a special way for Simon to honour his late mum Barbara and her love of Elvis music.

“Without the incredible support like this from Simon and others taking part in Mission 5000, the MND Association simply would not be able to fund vital research to find a cure and achieve our vision – a world free from MND.’’

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