A 65 year-old man with Parkinson’s who is coming to Barcelona after a 970-mile run from London has been hailed as ‘an inspiration’ by the broadcaster Jeremy Paxman.
Neil Russell, a former advertising executive from Gloucestershire, begins his epic run on Thursday (May 25) and plans to complete it at the end of June, in time for the opening of the World Parkinson’s Congress, which will see 5,000 delegates from 60 countries gather at the International Barcelona Convention Centre.
Paxman, the former host of the BBC’s Newsnight and University Challenge who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2021, said: ‘I wish Neil all the very best on his incredible run to Barcelona. People like Neil are an inspiration and he shows that having Parkinson’s need not be a barrier in life.
‘Neil’s journey will raise awareness of Parkinson’s as he heads to this important congress in Barcelona aimed at tackling the condition.’
Neil, who lives in Bourton on the Water, is no stranger to long-distance runs to raise awareness of the condition. Two years ago, he completed the 900-mile journey from John O’Groats to Land’s End, much of it with a broken bone in his right ankle.
Accompanied on the road by experienced cyclist, Katie Miller and in the family camper van by his wife, Nicky and their seven year-old Labrador, Oscar, Neil says he will go into this challenge much better prepared.
‘We think we’ve covered all the aspects of this challenge that perhaps we didn’t during the Land’s End to John O’Groats run,’ he said.
Those preparations include breaking down the 28 mile-a-day runs into three or four sessions and the food he will need to sustain him as the weather heats up through France and Spain.
Among the provisions on board the camper van will be a variety of up to 12 types of food that Neil will eat throughout the day, from gels and jelly babies to pasta and cheese sandwiches.
Neil added: ‘When I felt hungry on the Land’s End to John O’Groats run, I’d eat. But this isn’t about my hunger, it’s about maintaining my energy and hydration levels.’
As well as running more than 1,000 miles in training during the last six months, Neil has undergone some serious physiological testing at the University of Surrey, where he discovered that his resting heart rate was just 39 beats a minute and his lung capacity was – in his own words – ‘off the scale’.
He’s been given the all-clear to take on this challenge by his neurologist. Said Neil: ‘My neurologist has said from a Parkinson’s point of view, there’s no reason not to do what I’m doing. He thinks I’m bonkers for doing it but the closer we get to the start, his interest in the project is significantly greater because he realises that this will help to build awareness of Parkinson’s in the wider world – and hopefully generate some money to plough back into research into finding a cure. He’s always said that physical exercise – and the more energetic the exercise – the better the benefits for managing Parkinson’s.’
Neil’s run is supported by Parkinson’s UK and Cure Parkinson’s and sponsored by Imagine Cruising. His fundraising target is £50,000.
Neil’s run begins in London’s Hanover Square at 9.30am on Thursday. To sponsor Neil and find out more about his challenge visit https://www.neilstillcan.run/