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Oxfordshire-Dordogne: ‘we’re cycling 700km for motor neuron disease’

A team of four plan a charity bike ride in memory of a close family member who died from the incurable condition in 2020

From left to right: Emma Gottfried 32, Alastair Gottfried 33, Harriet Evans 32, James Wren 35 Pic: Picture provided by interviewee

Emma Gottfried, 32, is preparing for a 700km charity bike ride from Oxfordshire to Dordogne with her husband, brother and friend to raise money for motor neurone disease (MND), after her uncle died from the condition in 2020. 

The team of four will set off from Wallingford in the UK on April 9 and are aiming to reach Mrs Gottfried’s parents’ second home just south of Limoges five or six days later. 

There they will have a small family gathering to celebrate completing the ride and also to remember John Wren, who died aged 57 after being diagnosed with MND in 2018. 

They have already raised over £4,000 (approx. €4,750) for The Motor Neurone Disease Association, with a target of £5,000. 

Mrs Gottfried said that they are doing it to “raise awareness of an awful disease”.

“I think it was particularly tough for everyone to watch him go through it, tough for my aunt and cousins caring for him,” she said. 

“He passed away during the first wave of the pandemic in early April 2020, so because of the restrictions only 10 people could go along to the funeral. So that was really hard. 

“We just generally want to raise awareness for what he and my aunt and cousins went through.”

MND is an incurable condition that affects the brain and nerves and causes weakness that gets worse over time. 

Around 5,000 people in the UK suffer from the disease, and between 5,000 and 7,000 in France have it

Picture provided by interviewee. Left Photo: John Wren (right) with brothers Cliff (centre) and Graham (left) in 2016. Right photo: John Wren with Emma Gottfried at Mrs Gottfried’s wedding in 2019.

Mrs Gottfried, a branch manager with the real estate company Keller Williams, had originally been planning to run the London Marathon to raise money for the MND association, but it was repeatedly pushed back due to Covid. 

“I just wanted to get control over what I was doing,” Mrs Gottfried

“The idea that we could cycle from where we live to Limoges just popped into my head. 

“I floated the idea to my friend, Harriet, and my husband Alastair and brother James and the four of us thought, ‘why not, let’s give it a go’. 

“This was about six months ago and we have been planning it ever since. 

“We have just over a week to go and it is all becoming very real. 

“I wouldn’t say we are all natural cyclists. My brother (James) is really keen on cycling but the rest of us have done a bit but nothing in comparison to this. So I think we will need a rest at the end.

“It’s been hard work with the training. We have had a few setbacks. Myself, my husband and my brother all caught Covid in mid-February, so that set us back a bit. 

“I also suffer from Crohn's disease so I have had to handle that. 

“I am a mixture of nervous, excited. We have our route pretty much planned now.”

The team of four will first cycle down to Portsmouth and take the ferry over to Caen. From there they will work their way south down through the Pays de la Loire, past Saumur, into Nouvelle-Aquitaine, around Poitiers and on down past Limoges. 

Mrs Gottfried said she was a little worried about the roads around Poitiers, as they will be busier, but is looking forward to going through the Loire Valley. 

“I also think it will be great to experience cycling on French roads. 

“The French are big into their cycling, whereas sometimes in England you get beeped at and get a bit of road rage from the drivers. 

“So we’re looking forward to riding on the French roads and just taking in the countryside at a slower pace, rather than being in a car.”

The four will eventually arrive at Mrs Gottfried’s parents’ second home, which they have owned since 2006. 

Sandra Wren, Mrs Gottfried’s mother, said she was looking forward to them arriving and having a proper family get-together after Covid interrupted a wider commemoration of John back in 2020. 

Mrs Wren and her husband Graeme, John’s oldest brother, first noticed that John’s health was deteriorating during a family family skiing trip to Saint-Martin-de-Belleville in the Alps in 2017. 

“John was a snowboarder but he hadn’t been for a few years.

“When we were skiing we noticed that John had a slight tremor in his hands that we hadn’t noticed before, and also he kept falling.

“We just put it down to him not being fit. 

“After the trip he fell ill with a gastric flu and following that he noticed more muscle weakness, so was referred to a neurologist. It took quite a long time to get the diagnosis, but within a couple of years he died. 

“It was awful because you know there is no cure and it is a very fast-moving disease.

“He was a lively chap and a lot of fun, and very young when he died.”

Mrs Gottfried said that if her uncle John knew about the bike ride, he would “probably say we are all crazy”. 

“He’d probably tell us we’ll get a sore bum!

“But I think he would be proud of us. I had originally planned to do the London marathon in support of MND, and I think he was happy that I was raising awareness of it. 

“It’s amazing to be able to do something for him and to recognise how incredibly strong my aunt and my cousins were in caring for him.”

You can find out more about the charity bike ride, which has been dubbed ‘OnYerBike4MND’ on the team’s Just Giving page at this link

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