Cycling challenge in memory of Norfolk farmer will raise money to tackle multiple system atrophy (MSA)
- Credit: IAN BURT
A determined cyclist is gearing up to pedal the length of the country to help the sufferers of a rare and cruel illness which claimed the life of a well-known farmer in his village.
Howard Bailey, who grew up in Litcham, near Dereham, is cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats to raise money for the treatment of multiple system atrophy (MSA) – a neurological disorder caused by degeneration of nerve cells in the brain.
The 950-mile challenge, from the British mainland's south-western tip to its opposite extremity, is being tackled in memory of Colin Griffin, a popular Mid-Norfolk farmer who died in 2011 at the age of 66.
Mr Griffin, who ran farms in Litcham, Dunham and Ashwicken, suffered a shocking physical decline after developing MSA, which in the last months of his life left him unable to move or speak, even though his mental capacity was unaffected.
The businessman was well-known for helping good causes and supporting local sports teams.
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So Mr Bailey, 29, said he was keen to repay the support that Mr Griffin had given him at Litcham Youth Club, and in helping inspire a love of sports that saw him play senior football for Dereham Town, and cricket for both Dereham and Fakenham.
He said: 'Colin was a great supporter of causes including the Litcham Youth Club, where I've helped with my dad for years. It means a lot when someone helps a good cause like that, and he was also very supportive to me personally with my sport when I was a youngster here.'
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Mr Bailey attended Litcham High School and Fakenham Sixth Form, before moving to Hampshire in 2007, where he now works as a solicitor.
He said although he was a keen cyclist, the mileage of the challenge is far beyond anything he has attempted before.
'I am sure there will be some very trying moments,' he said. 'But I have got some points along the route where people can help me.
'My former football manager is in Bristol and he will be able to give me a sports massage. I think I will probably be in desperate need of one by then. It will give me something to look forward to.'
The cyclist's father, Richard Bailey, said everyone involved in the fundraising effort wanted to thank the sponsors of the cycle ride, QD Stores and Omex.
Mr Griffin's son Chris, who now runs his family's Norfolk Farm Produce business, based in Beeston, said: 'We just feel ever so grateful and proud that Howard is going to make this great achievement for the cause of MSA. It is so rare and it is such a cruel disease that more needs to be done to help those who are suffering from it.
'The way my dad went from an able-bodied man to death in five years... it was very aggressive. It starts with the bigger muscles, then you can't walk, then you lose the use of your arms and your organs. He was unable to speak for the last 18 months.
'The worst thing about the disease is the mind is as young as it ever was. All his thought processes were the same. He was literally just trapped in a vessel, which is as cruel as it comes.
'The frustration in his eyes was painful to look at. But he would still come to work every day. Most people would have been in bed for a year, but he was driven in to work every day to check on what we were doing and how the stocks were.'
Mr Bailey will start his 11-day ride on May 4 in aid of the MSA Trust. To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/howardbailey30.