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100+ Scottish rugby fans are cycling to Rome – raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for motor neurone disease charity

We spoke to Iain Whyte who is leading the London Scottish contingent, and tell the story of the My Name'5 Doddie Foundation

More than 100 Scotland rugby union fans are spending this week cycling as much as 1,700 miles to Rome ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations match against Italy – and their efforts have already raised more than £350,000 for the charity established by the late Doddie Weir, who died from Motor Neurone Disease in 2022.

Among them are a seven-strong team of riders from one of the sport’s most illustrious clubs, London Scottish FC, and we joined families and other well-wishers in Richmond upon Thames on Saturday morning to see them off on their journey.

What had been a dreich morning at Richmond Athletic Ground had turned into a full-blown downpour by the time the seven riders, plus two support crew and a number of other cyclists joining them for at least part of the first leg of the journey, hit the road at 7am sharp.

They are among no fewer than 103 people – some riding solo, others in teams – who are taking part in the All Roads Lead to Rome challenge in aid of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation.

Doddie Weir – the most gentle of giants

Weir, six foot six inches tall and as affable as they come – the term ‘gentle giant’ might as well have been coined for him alone – passed away in November 2022 at the age of 52 after battling motor neurone disease for more than five years.

Doddie Weir (picture via Gullane Golf Club on Twitter)

Doddie Weir (picture via Gullane Golf Club on Twitter)

Capped 61 times for Scotland and also a member of the British and Irish Lions squad that toured South Africa in 1997, he was once memorably described by the great rugby commentator Bill McLaren as being “on the charge like a mad giraffe.”

Following his diagnosis in 2017, he set up the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation – the number 5 being the one the lock forward wore on his jersey throughout his rugby career – and two years later, by which time the charity had already raised well over £2 million, he was the recipient of the Helen Rollason award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony.

His efforts, plus those of Rugby League great Kevin Sinfield – now a coach with the England team in Rugby Union, and whose former Leeds team-mate Rob Burrow, who has MND and with whom Weir established a close friendship – have had a huge impact in not just raising money for those suffering from the disease and for research into it, but also heightening awareness of the condition among the general public.

London Scottish put out a sevens team ... on the road, not the pitch

The London Scottish contingent of seven cyclists and two support drivers and navigators is being led by Iain Whyte, a youth coach at the club, who has performed the ride leader role on previous editions between Edinburgh and Cardiff, and the Scottish capital and London, and vice-versa in both cases.

Their route is taking them more than 1,400 miles with around 45,000 feet of elevation, the only rule being to get to Rome’s Piazza Navona by 5pm tomorrow.

“This is the biggest ride I’ve ever done of any sort,” Whyte told us. “The longest duration, certainly, We’ve typically done 48 to 52 hour rides, between Cardiff and Edinburgh or in the other direction, or Twickenham to Edinburgh, or the other direction. So we've done that four times, this is the fifth year, and this is the furthest we’ve done.”

By Saturday morning the 19 teams taking part in the challenge had collectively raised more than £300,000, of which Whyte and his colleagues at London Scottish had secured £45,000.

“We’re going to hope to get to £60,000,” he said, “But in the last four years, we’ve done more than £152,000.”

Whyte, who has been sharing videos of the journey south on Facebook, told us that what he was looking forward to least on the ride were the hills.

“There’s some pretty nasty bumps along the way once you get to Grenoble, that’s going to be quite tough,” he said.

“But you focus on the mission and you think of those that have suffered from MND, and our suffering, our little bit of suffering, will come to an end pretty quickly, so that's really the whole piece behind it,” added Whyte, whose own fundraising page for the ride can be found here.

“The bit I'm looking forward to the most, I can’t lie, it's going to be a beer, at five o'clock on Friday, it will be tasty.”

Talking about the role of initiatives such as the challenges set by the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation as well as Sinfield’s fundraising efforts in raising the profile of MND, he said: “In recent years I think that’s steadily been increasing. It’s been a disease that has simply been underfunded as Doddie himself said.

“It's not incurable, it’s just been underfunded so that's really our mission, to raise awareness, raise support and just keep the fight going here.”

My Name'5 Doddie ride now a perennial Six Nations fixture

In recent years, the ride in aid of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation has become as much a perennial feature of the Six Nations calendar as Scotland retaining the Calcutta Cup, and besides the riders themselves – whose routes can be tracked here – also features the match ball to be used in the fixture being taken to the venue on the back of former Scotland captain Rob Wainwright’s bike, who began his ride on Sunday evening in Oban. 

My Name'5 Doddie at Cardiff

Wainwright, who combined his rugby union career with being an doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps and is now a farmer in the Inner Hebrides, also founded the Doddie Aid fundraising drive which sees people all over Scotland log their exercise for the five weeks starting on 1 January and in 2022 and 2023 raised £4 million, with almost 60,000 participants together chalking up more than 8 million miles whether walking, jogging, cycling or whichever other way they chose to rack up distance.

Piazza Navona – prepare for a spectacle!

The extended oval of Piazza Navona is no stranger to spectacle, built on the footprint of the stadium built almost 2,000 years ago on the orders of the Roman emperor Domitian and transformed into the current Baroque masterpiece in the mid-1600s.

But it’s safe to say it will never have seen a sight like the one awaiting it tomorrow, when the 100-strong Scottish peloton, their kit in Doddie Weir’s blue, white, yellow and black tartan – the colours being those of Scotland and the Borders club Melrose – hit the Eternal City.

Besides hundreds of Scotland fans who will have arrived early for Saturday’s match, they will also be greeted by 18-or-so bagpipers, and the fundraising efforts won’t stop then – on Saturday, visiting supporters will meet up for the ‘March of a Thousand Headbands’ from Rome’s Piazza del Popolo to the Stadio Olimpico ahead of the match.

My Name’5 Doddie Foundation announces £6 million in funding for 2024

Just last week, MNDF announced £6 million of funding “to catalyse the development of new treatments for people living with motor neuron disease,” in line with the “one clear goal” underpinning its establishment, namely “to expedite the development of new treatments for motor neuron disease (MND) and ultimately, a cure.”

That includes £4 million to establish a Discovery Network, which the foundation says “will provide the substantial funding and innovative environment needed to encourage breakthroughs in our understanding of MND that could lead to fundamentally new approaches to treating the disease.”

A further £1.75 million has been allocated to the foundation’s Advancing Treatments Awards, a programme “that supports the next stage of research, translating breakthroughs into potential treatments,” an increase from the £1.3 million set aside for the initiative in 2023.

Finally, £250,000 will go towards its Catalyst Awards, applications for which will be opened in the autumn and which “enable researchers to bring early-stage promising ideas to life.”

Commenting on that funding last week Jessica Lee, director of research at My Name’5 Doddie Foundation said: “When Doddie established the Foundation in 2017, he wanted to make a step change and fund the smartest, most efficient research to speed up the development of new treatments.

“Research takes a long time, but by investing in innovative projects and new funding models, we are striving to make faster progress and bring effective treatment options to people living with MND as quickly as possible. This is only made possible by our committed supporters, for whom we are so thankful.”

Further information on those initiatives can be found here.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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EK Spinner | 1 month ago
1 like

I know one of these incredible riders who started at Murrayffield and visiting each 6N stadium, a summary of his week

10 days
1833 miles
74776 ft of climbing

absolutly mental, 

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