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Luke Conquers Hadrian's Wall

21 June 2024

A doctor living with MND who took on an epic cross-England trek the length of  Hadrian’s Wall has revealed how two bad falls on the opening day threatened to end the challenge before it had truly begun. 

Luke Hames-Brown, 35, and his team of friends and family completed the 84-mile challenge this week – smashing their initial £5,000 target by raising more than £40,000 and counting for My Name’5 Doddie Foundation and other charities including MND Association and Petals

However, the now retired GP, who prepared for months ahead of the challenge, feared he may not be able to continue past the first day following two painful falls – one just before the start line and another head-first tumble 21km into a tough 23km first day. 

Despite having to reassess his expectations of the challenge – including reducing the distance he covered personally each day – the defiant doctor picked himself up mentally and physically to complete the gruelling eight-day challenge surrounded by friends, family, and his loving wife Kate.

Luke, who was diagnosed with MND in April last year, and had been affected by a viral illness in the run up to the challenge, said: “It was incredibly tough. I fell just before the start, and was a bit shaken but after getting checked over was able to get walking. Unfortunately, the combination of my MND symptoms and the illness contributed to a bigger fall later in the day. I caught my foot going downhill on a narrow path where I couldn’t use my walking poles and fell headfirst. I landed on my knee, elbow, and face. There was a full rollercoaster of emotions, and as I lay there, I thought ‘I’m not sure I can do this.’”

“I thought of all the people following the challenge, the people I was doing this for, my family, other people with MND, and campaigners like Doddie Weir and Rob Burrow– I didn’t want failure to be the narrative for me. I realised that this was all part of the journey, making adaptations so I could continue doing the things I care about; this meant I had to adjust my expectations of what I was capable of at the moment –  it didn’t mean giving up! Getting up and walking again the next day was hard, but I was determined to keep going.”

“Three years ago I’d have prided myself on pushing through the pain and always going beyond my limits. Now I have MND, I have to accept that isn’t always an option – the disease will limit what I can do. However, my mission in my MND journey is to show everybody that the disease won’t stop me from doing what I love – nor should it anybody – I just have to do it differently. I can define the narrative. That was more evident in that moment than ever.” 

Luke, originally from East Sussex and who now lives near Oxford, was also joined on his journey by his and his wife Kate’s parents, as well as friends including some he hadn’t seen in decades. He was also cheered and greeted along the route by other walkers who’d heard about his challenge and recognised him from press appearances and social media. 

Poignant moments included celebrating Luke and Kate’s second wedding anniversary – during which the couple’s friends tied balloons on their rucksacks – and a special gift from Luke’s former Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue colleagues. Team members joined Luke, who volunteered with the service from 2012 to 2018, for a section of the route and afterwards presented him with a coveted red jacket – normally reserved only for serving volunteers – and honorary life membership.

Hull York University Medical School graduate Luke, who met doctor Kate, 38, while working in an emergency department in 2013, said: “There were so many special moments. The gesture from the mountain rescue team meant a huge amount – it was a true honour. 

“When Kate and I got married we never thought we’d be celebrating our second wedding anniversary under these circumstances, but in many ways it made me appreciate Kate and all I have even more. The quiet moments and time spent with my family were the most special. I think it’s so important that we take the time to notice and share all the positive things that happen, even the small ones make dealing with the tough times easier

“Having people you don’t know recognise and support you is amazing. I want to say a huge thank you to everybody who supported me throughout the challenge – friends, family, current and former colleagues – as well as all those who sent messages of support, well wishes, and donations. Every single one was a massive source of motivation, particularly when things were tough.” 

Luke, whose condition significantly affects his ability to move effectively, worsens  aches and pains, impacts his balance, and causes him to tire very quickly, was joined on the challenge by filmmakers Jack Fisher (who he met last year on an expedition to Mongolia supporting archaeological, botanical, and zoological research) and Zach Putman. The pair are charting Luke’s experience with MND journey as part of a powerful film to be premiered later this year. Luke also plans to carry on the fundraising mission, and says he is thinking of other challenges already. 

Paul Thompson, Director of Fundraising at My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, said: “Luke’s phenomenal efforts deserve the highest praise. He embodies everything that Doddie fought so hard for in his MND campaigning, picking himself up when things knocked him down, and maintaining incredible determination to keep going in the face of adversity. 

“Living with MND is incredibly hard, but inspirational people like Luke provide those faced with a diagnosis with the strength to keep making the most of life for as long as possible. 

“It’s up to us, and all those searching for effective treatments and one day a cure for MND, to provide hope, and the efforts of Luke, his team, and all those who raise money and awareness for the cause will help us get there.”

 MND campaigner and rugby league legend Rob Burrow died earlier this month at the age of 41, having dedicated the last few years of his life to raising money and awareness of MND causes. Luke had hoped to meet Burrow following his Hadrian’s Wall challenge. 

To donate to Luke’s MND Awareness Hadrian’s Wall Challenge, visit donate.giveasyoulive.com/fundraising/lukes-hadrians-wall-challenge. To find out more about My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, visit myname5doddie.co.uk/.

Luke Conquers Hadrian's Wall
Luke Conquers Hadrian's Wall

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