A MAN with Parkinson’s disease who ran, walked and cycled 10,000km around the world to raise money for research is to be honoured by the Prime Minister.
Alex Flynn, a 44-year-old lawyer from Goring, completed his “10 million metre” challenge in early 2014 and has since helped to set up a charity for young people who have recently been diagnosed with the condition.
The organisation, called Spotlight YOPD, has a website offering information and advice and also includes a noticeboard where support groups across the UK can advertise their meetings.
Mr Flynn, who is married with three young sons, came up with the idea because he struggled to find support when he was told he had the neurodegenerative illness in 2008.
Now he is to receive a Points of Light award for exceptional volunteering from Prime Minister David Cameron.
Mr Flynn was contacted by Cabinet Office staff earlier this month after they read about his accomplishments on his personal website.
They confirmed he was eligible for the accolade after interviewing him and he expects to receive a certificate by post in the next few weeks.
Mr Flynn said: “I received an email asking me to call this telephone number. At first I thought it was spam because I’d never have thought they’d get in touch that way.
“However, I called it and, lo and behold, I ended up having a long conversation about everything I’d done. Someone phoned back the next day and said they thought I was a hero. I was absolutely gobsmacked. They said some lovely things about me and it brought tears to my eyes because you don’t get much thanks for all that effort.
“Then they asked if I’d accept the award and of course I said yes. It’s a wonderful recognition of everything I’ve done and I feel very lucky.
“My mum, my brother and friends have been over the moon and my wife thought it was very impressive. I haven’t told the children yet — I’m going to surprise them.”
Mr Flynn, who moved to Goring from Henley in 2013, began his challenge in 2010 by competing in the Marathon des Sables across the Sahara Desert.
He finished 528th out of 1,100 runners and became the first person with Parkinson’s to complete the course.
He then took part in a number of runs across Europe, including the Challenge Henley triathlon and the 50-mile Thames Trot along the river towpath.
In 2011 he cycled 2,345km from London to Rome, which he completed despite a bone fracture in his right leg, and ran the 41km Otter Trail in South Africa.
The following year he ran, cycled and kayaked more than 3,000 miles across America as well as climbing Mt Whitney, the country’s highest mountain at 14,500ft.
In 2013 he completed a 200km “ultra-marathon” through the Amazon rainforest in Peru.
In January 2014 he completed the Dubai Marathon, his final task, despite being severely dehydrated and unable to take his medication due to a stomach bug.
His adventure raised more than £68,000 for the Cure Parkinson’s Trust. He has written a book about it which he hopes to publish next year and is now filming a documentary on the condition. This will include an interview with Michael Palin, whose father had Parkinson’s.
Mr Flynn hoped to row 2,500 miles across the Pacific this summer with Darren Taylor, a former classmate from The Henley College, but had to pull out due to a lack of funding and because he wanted to spend more time with his family.
However, he is gearing up to cycle 150km across the Badlands National Park in South Dakota later this year. Next year he hopes to ride more than 2,000 miles across Asia.
He said: “I’m feeling good about it but I wouldn’t say I’m confident. It’s good to be a bit nervous when you’re facing any challenge because you don’t take anything for granted and make silly mistakes.
“I have a good support team but there’s an always an element of risk. You just have to do whatever you can to reduce it.
“When I was first diagnosed, I was pretty much told there was no cure, given medication to keep the symptoms at bay and left to get on with it.
“There were no real support networks like Macmillan for cancer patients but if you’re young and just starting out in life it’s incredibly tough to receive that news.
“I remember looking for information on Wikipedia but that isn’t particularly helpful because it’s just factual. There’s no emotional support and not everyone will experience every symptom.
“Spotlight YOPD has taken off on social media and there has been a massive wave of acceptance from other organisations in the field. It’s important because there are young people out there who are scared and don’t know where to go next.”
Mr Cameron said: “Alex has pushed himself to his physical limits in his mission to raise awareness and funds to fight Parkinson’s.
“As a co-founder of the Spotlight YOPD charity, he is reaching out to people who have also been diagnosed with the condition at a young age, helping them access the support they need and giving them the confidence to live full and rewarding lives.”
To sponsor Mr Flynn, visit www.alexflynn.co.uk
For more information, visit www.spotlightyopd.org