Back in 2018, when I met up with MDUK to talk about the charity and its origins, I was absolutely convinced that I wouldn’t accept the offer of taking over the role of president from Sue Barker MBE, MDUK’s former President and Honorary Life President. I was involved in a few different charities and didn’t think I had time. But the meeting changed all of that.
I was inspired hearing about why the charity was set up over 60 years ago, and learning about how children can go from walking to adapting to life in a wheelchair in a matter of years. This just seemed so unbelievably cruel that I found myself saying yes to the offer of becoming president of the charity.
I left the meeting wanting to help MDUK fight for rights, research, and to continue growing the impressive community they have developed to help give families the support they need following a diagnosis.
Being part of the community
I've been lucky to attend lots of fundraising events and challenges like MDUK’s annual Oxford Town & Gown 10k through the beautiful historic city, which is coming up on Sunday 14 May this year.
I loved the Celebrity Sports Quiz, both virtually in lockdown and previously at Lords Cricket Ground, which is also happening again on Wednesday 14 June. I’m looking forward to co-hosting it this time with one of my best mates, Kirsty Gallacher, and also having my husband, Kenny, attend as a guest so he can learn more about the amazing work that MDUK does.
After lockdown, I’ve really enjoyed getting back to in-person events – like the BGC Charity Day and the Vice President’s Lunch at the House of Lords, which was important for keeping supporters informed of the latest news and campaigning activities. The annual President’s Awards, where we acknowledge some of the people who go above and beyond for MDUK, inspire me each and every year.
I am always in awe of the families and young people I meet at MDUK events. It makes me realise that the power of teamwork can bring about change – being part of that is a privilege.
Getting to meet incredible people
The events we host are important not just for fundraising, but also in creating opportunities to meet other people within the community who are also benefitting from the research and support services that MDUK provides. They give people the chance to connect with other individuals and families going through similar things, while also accessing information that can help improve their day-to-day lives.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Carmela Chillery-Watson, a young girl, who lives with a rare muscle-wasting condition called LMNA-related congenital muscular dystrophy (LMNA-CMD). Carmela experiences discomfort every day, but with the support of her family, goes to amazing lengths organising creative fundraising adventures for MDUK.
I’ve been moved by a number of parents’ speeches – including Louisa Hill whose son Archie lives with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Each and every family I meet are determined to do all they can in the fight to beat muscle-wasting conditions. That in itself is hugely motivating.
MDUK provide vital support where it’s needed
Over the years, what I’ve seen is that MDUK really does make a difference to families. The charity provides practical support – from advice on things like home adaptations, to PIP applications, or starting school – they have experts who know how to help. And the difference it makes is tangible.
I’ve also met some amazing scientists who are at the forefront of research, developing treatments and cures, which will make a huge difference in slowing down the rate of muscle-wasting and improving people’s quality of life. It’s incredibly exciting to see that there are now 11 treatments available to treat specific muscle-wasting conditions, as well as more progress on the horizon.
However, I do also know that research is expensive and the services that the charity offer are vital. Ongoing support is needed to help the charity continue to distribute funds where it’s needed most.
Feeling positive about turning 50
I am really excited about entering my 50’s. My kids are about to turn 18, and they are flying into the next stage of their lives and that feels so exciting. I’m energised by their goals and dreams, as well as the freedom that will come from not being restricted by a school timetable!
My husband, Kenny, is 51 and he seems to be having a good time in his 50’s so I can follow his lead. I love keeping fit and healthy and my aim is to keep being active and doing exciting things. I want to say yes to projects that I might not have been able to do before, and to make sure I give time to the things I feel passionate about.
Supporting #TeamOrange at the London Marathon
I’m kicking off my birthday celebrations with the London Marathon the day before, which is one of the greatest days of the year. I’m so lucky that I get to present it for the BBC. Every year I’m brought to tears watching people push their bodies through the pain barrier to reach the finish line. Then I’m also a little bit jealous of the euphoria they seem to experience at the end of 26.2 miles.
So, I want to say a special thank you to all of our MDUK runners for taking part, we appreciate how tough it’s been training for the London Marathon, and we hugely appreciate the money and awareness you’ve raised. But above all, I hope you enjoyed the experience and gave me a wave as I certainly was cheering you all on.
Why I got involved with MDUK and why you should too…
There are so many ways you can get involved with MDUK – from fundraising activities to volunteering, and online support groups. You can be part of a wonderful community of people. In short, you can make a tangible difference to incredible people.
To help celebrate Gabby’s milestone birthday, text GABBY to 70085 to donate five pounds. Thank you!
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