IRISH and Ulster rugby legend Paddy Johns is preparing to embark on a gruelling five-day challenge for charity that will see him swim, run, row and cycle his way from London to Paris for the Rugby World Cup final on October 28th.
Former Ireland international captain Paddy is one of a 12-strong team of friends and ex-playing colleagues of Scottish rugby legends Doddie Weir OBE and Tom Smith, both of whom passed away last year, who are taking part in the 450km ‘TRY-athlon’ in aid of Motor Neuron Disease (MND) charity, the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, and Colon Cancer charity 40Tude.
Doddie Weir, who earned 61 caps for Scotland and represented the British and Irish Lions in 1997, set up the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation in 2017 after announcing that he had been diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease (MND), to help raise awareness and funds to find a cure for the devastating disease that eventually took his life, at the age of just 52, in November 2022.
Tom Smith, who also earned 61 caps for Scotland and toured with the 1997 and 2001 British and Irish Lions, was diagnosed with Stage Four Cancer in 2019, with tumours in his colon, brain and liver.
He died in April 2022 aged 50.
The 40Tude Curing Colon Cancer charity was founded in September 2011 to help fund research into a disease that kills around 17,000 people in the UK each year, with an average of more than 110 people diagnosed each day.
Born in Portadown and now a dentist in Dungannon, where he started his rugby career, Paddy Johns won 59 caps for Ireland between 1990 and 2000 and played at the 1995 and 1999 World Cups.
Now the journey to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in Paris is set to be a very different challenge for Paddy and his fellow participants.
Under the banner ‘Try To The Final’, the ultimate endurance test begins on Monday October 23 when the 12 athletes will converge in London at Lido Pool to swim 5,100m before embarking on a 35-mile run to Gillingham.
Day Two sees the team run a further 40 miles from Gillingham to Dover, from where they will row 27.5 miles to Calais, in two six-berth rowing boats, the following day.
In the event of weather making it impossible to row across the Channel, the team will use concept rowers to row the same distance in Dover.
As if that wasn’t tough enough, the next leg of the journey is a 140-mile cycle from Calais to Beauvais on Day Four, followed by a 60-mile cycle to Paris on Day Five to arrive on the eve of the World Cup Final, which takes place on Saturday October 28.
“We’re under no illusions as to how difficult this challenge will be, but we’re all determined to do our best for two very worthy charities, in memory of Doddie and Tom,” said Paddy Johns, whose club career started at Dungannon and also included Ulster Rugby and Saracens in London, where he played alongside South Africa’s World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar, and another World Cup winner in Australia’s Michael Lynagh.
“Doddie and Tom were two legends of our game and their deaths last year from these devastating diseases shocked everyone in our closely-knit rugby fraternity,” he continued.
“It shows how vulnerable we all are, and that includes top athletes who have played sport at the highest level.
“With this in mind, it really is an honour and a privilege for me to be part of this adventure to raise money and, very importantly, much needed awareness about these illnesses,” he added.
“Hopefully we’ll all arrive safely in one piece, and in good time to see Ireland lift the Rugby World Cup.”
Accompanying Paddy from Northern Ireland are former Scottish rugby international Budge Pountney, now Rugby Development Manager with Ulster Rugby, and Royal Belfast Golf Club Chief Executive Stuart Thom, a friend and supporter of Doddie and his foundation from the outset.
The trio will sale across the Irish Sea, courtesy of ferry company Stena Line, to meet up with the rest of the squad which includes Allan Bateman (ex-Wales international & British and Irish Lions), Stuart Reid (ex-Scotland international), Scott Otten (ex-Wales international), Ironman Triathletes Luke Ryan and Liz O’Connor, Jon Philips, Mark Soden, Laurence Denvir, and Tony Clare.
The fund-raising target for the trip is £66,666, which represents the combined jersey numbers of Doddie (5) and Tom (1) and donations to the cause can be made online at https://donate.giveasyoulive.com/fundraising/the-try-to-the-final.
Neurology Centre in Craigavon Area Hospital
Money raised by the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation has been used to open Northern Ireland’s first Neurology Centre at Craigavon Area Hospital, where MND-SMART clinical trials are being held to test the effectiveness of different drugs at slowing down Motor Neuron Disease and improving survival rates.
Opened in February this year, 12 people have so far commenced treatment as part of the trials, and the investigators will continue to enrol participants from across Northern Ireland, in the hope of finding new treatments for MND, until 2025.
Stuart Thom said: “As a supporter of the foundation since Doddie’s diagnosis in 2017, I was delighted to visit Craigavon, see the clinic and meet the staff in June this year, alongside Paddy Johns.
“It was amazing to see how some of the money raised from our fundraising events is being utilised to help find a cure, which really spurs us on to complete our most difficult challenge to date next month.”
People with MND who are interested in taking part in the trial can register via www.mnd-smart.org.