It’s a huge undertaking that she hopes will raise more awareness and funds for the disease she has lived with for the last twelve years
Maura Ward’s son, Johnny, may have visited every country in the world but it’s clear where he got his adventurous spirit from. An intrepid explorer herself, the septuagenarian had already travelled to many countries with her son, and alone, prior to her diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease in 2011.
She has now ticked over 60 countries off her list and it was the chance to visit Jordan, a place she had always wanted to visit, that spurred her to accept her most recent challenge. Later this month, she will undertake a 100km cycle from Petra, in Jordan, to Wadi Rum (the desert Lawrence of Arabia helped put on a map) to raise £10,000 for Parkinson’s research.
This is the third time Maura has tested her limits in a bid to raise funds for this cause. In 2019, she climbed Mount Fuji and in 2021, she ran 10km as part of the Serengeti Marathon.
Together with 20 other heroes, she and her son will cover the 100km distance (on a tandem bike) over the course of two days – roughly 50km per day.
We spoke to Maura about living with Parkinson’s and how she is feeling about her upcoming adventure:
When were you first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and how did it affect you physically and mentally?
I was first diagnosed more than ten years ago. Physically, I had a mild tremor on my left side, and my left arm would not automatically swing when I walked or ran. I also had noticed my fine motor skills were less acute.
Mentally was a bigger issue – because initially I tried to convince myself that it was irrelevant. In a matter of weeks I realised that was not the case, and I went through so many emotions. I was angry, I was devastated, I was miserable, I was withdrawn, but eventually came acceptance. I liken it to a grief reaction, grieving for the life that might have been.
Runs, climbs, parachute jumps – you’ve done so many incredible things to raise funds for this cause. What has been the biggest challenge or most memorable adventure you’ve taken on so far?
They have all been quite momentous in their own way – the parachute jump fulfilled a long-held ambition. The Mount Fuji climb was extremely challenging, not just because of the actual climb, but also because I struggled with altitude sickness. The Serengeti marathon was memorable because of the subsequent safari and travel.
How are you feeling about cycling 100km across the Jordanian desert with your son?
Apprehensive, to put it mildly! I had an arthritic hip joint which caused me a lot of pain and restricted my movement considerably. I had that hip replaced at the end of 2022 which inevitably impacted on any training. That, coupled with deterioration of my Parkinson’s symptoms, and a few weeks of breathing issues, has meant my training is a long way behind where it should be. But we will see!
What has been your greatest achievement since being diagnosed?
That is a really difficult question to answer. Hopefully, I have raised enough money to help in research, and also played a small part in raising awareness. Parkinson’s is not a condition which lends itself to a sympathetic hearing – old people drooling, shaking and staggering is something people would prefer to ignore.
Many people may believe that a Parkinson’s diagnosis is the end of their lives as they know it. You are proof that it isn’t. Is there anything you’d like to tell newly-diagnosed people about the condition that you wish you had known at the start?
That a diagnosis is very much not the end of life as they know it. In fact, life can continue just the same for some time. The other thing I found out for myself is that exercise makes a difference.
What do you hope to achieve with the money you raise on this charity cycle?
I sincerely hope that research will very soon lead to a cure, or at least a way in which Parkinson’s can be halted. I don’t want my children, or my children’s children to ever have to deal with Parkinson’s Disease.
To help Maura reach her goal of raising £10,000 for Parkinson’s research, you can donate here.