News, Culture & Society

Ed Slater speaks out on his motor neurone disease battle as he completes brutal charity bike ride 

To be at Kingsholm on Wednesday night was to be reminded that, for all its current flaws, rugby still has a significant capacity for good.

Ed Slater, soaked in sweat and clutching a well-deserved lager, acknowledged as much.

As the former Gloucester lock entered the stadium he used to call home to bring to an end the most gruelling of bike rides, it was hard not to feel emotional.

Ed Slater has ridden 350 miles this week in a charity bike ride for motor neurone disease

Slater was visibly full of emotion this evening when he crossed the finishing line in Gloucester

Slater was visibly full of emotion this evening when he crossed the finishing line in Gloucester

Hundreds of Gloucester fans turned up to cheer Slater and his fellow cyclists.

Last month, Slater received the life-changing news he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND). It shocked the rugby world. Slater is just 34. His family are devastated.

But, somehow able to summon the most remarkable strength in the face of adversity, Slater is not giving up. 

Alongside players and staff of Gloucester, he has cycled 350 miles this week to raise not only vital awareness of MND, but more than £300,000 in funds.

‘I’m just a normal bloke from Milton Keynes who happened to play a bit of rugby and the way you have supported me since my diagnosis means so much,’ Slater told Gloucester’s fans.

‘The welcome here is humbling and mind blowing. After receiving the diagnosis, I was in an extraordinarily dark place and Gloucester have lifted me out of that. I have got to thank the club.

Slater was exhausted but overjoyed, raising over £300,000 for charity with his bike ride

Slater was exhausted but overjoyed, raising over £300,000 for charity with his bike ride

‘It’s not been easy for them with this life-changing news, but they’ve been great. It’s a special, special place.’

Slater, pint in hand, received a raucous welcome from Gloucester’s supporters as he crossed the finishing line. ‘Gloucester, Gloucester,’ sang the Cherry and White faithful.

‘I can’t believe the reaction and that people to have turned out like they have. The noise when we arrived was amazing,’ said Slater.

‘I had to keep the tears in to be honest with you. I did have a cry when we came into Gloucester because a lot has changed for me since the diagnosis. I’ve had to give up rugby.

‘I’ve had to give up a lot of things. A lot of this challenge was about proving I could still do something which was very difficult. It nearly broke me, but I got through it.

The group received a warm welcome from supporters and family as they arrived in Gloucester

The group received a warm welcome from supporters and family as they arrived in Gloucester

The former Gloucester lock enjoyed a well-earned pint when he had completed the ride

The former Gloucester lock enjoyed a well-earned pint when he had completed the ride

Slater was greeted by his family at the finishing line, where he was congratulated on his ride

Slater was greeted by his family at the finishing line, where he was congratulated on his ride

‘I’ve just decided it (the MND diagnosis) is out of my control. There is not a lot I can do about it. It is not going to go away and it is certainly not going to do that if I sit at home and wallow in self-pity. 

‘I just need to get on with doing stuff. That’s my attitude. I am not going to help anyone by stewing at home. My kids and my wife don’t need it and I don’t need it. I am determined to carry on and try to keep that attitude.’

As the new rugby season looms into view, the sport is battling a number of significant issues.

Leading the way is the landmark legal case involving hundreds of former players who are suing the game’s authorities for negligence after suffering serious brain injuries in their careers.

The situation is grave, harrowing even, and it may well lead many to doubt rugby’s importance and worth in today’s society. 

But the way in which the sport has rallied round Slater is a reminder that rugby has a community and sense of belonging that, while not perfect, must not be lost.

Rugby is battling several issues, but Slater's efforts were a reminder of the good in the game

Rugby is battling several issues, but Slater’s efforts were a reminder of the good in the game

The former pro spoke after the ride and said he was 'lucky' for the support he has received

The former pro spoke after the ride and said he was ‘lucky’ for the support he has received

Anyone who was at Kingsholm tonight would have felt the emotional bond rugby can create be they Cherry and White fan, player, administrator or passing Gloucester resident.

Tears filled the eyes of many as Slater clutched his wife Jo and their three young children at the finish line. Slater’s mother, also called Jo, was in attendance too.

‘I’m very lucky these guys have rallied round me,’ said Slater. ‘I’m also aware there are people who have this disease I’ve been diagnosed with and they don’t have the same support. 

‘For my mum to be here to see this welcome is massive for her and it is the same for me and my family. It has brought a great deal of comfort and support.

‘I know I’m very fortunate to have this support around me and I’ll never take it for granted.’

Slater signed shirts of supporters, whilst chants of 'Gloucester, Gloucester' could be heard

Slater signed shirts of supporters, whilst chants of ‘Gloucester, Gloucester’ could be heard

Slater admitted he will never take the support he has received from his family for granted

Slater admitted he will never take the support he has received from his family for granted

MND is a degenerative condition that affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord. There is no cure.

Slater first realised something might not be right 11 months ago when he felt muscle twitches in his arm. He was eventually diagnosed with MND in Oxford and retired from rugby when confirming the news in July.

Slater, like Doddie Weir, Joost van der Westhuizen and Rob Burrow is the latest of the sport’s high-profile personalities to have been afflicted by the disease.

He has taken steps to record his voice so his children will be able to hear him communicate via technology in the future in the same way Burrow does today.

That is for the future, but Slater is still living for today.

Billy Twelvetrees, Lewis Ludlow, Fraser Balmain were just a few of the other riders involved

Billy Twelvetrees, Lewis Ludlow, Fraser Balmain were just a few of the other riders involved

Slater is hoping the money raised will help slow down motor neurone disease, or find cure

Slater is hoping the money raised will help slow down motor neurone disease, or find cure

On Monday, alongside Gloucester players Billy Twelvetrees, Lewis Ludlow, Fraser Balmain and others, he set off from Kingsholm for a gruelling cycling trip that would have tested anyone in peak condition, let alone someone with MND.

Stop-offs came at Slater’s former club Leicester — with whom he won the Premiership in 2013 — and at Twickenham before a glorious return to Gloucester yesterday.

Frankly, Slater’s effort has been superhuman. He is a true inspiration. 

‘The money that has been raised by Doddie has been amazing in research and development and trying to push drugs to find something that can either slow this (MND) down or ideally find a cure,’ said Slater. 

Slater said the emotions began to hit him as he and the riding group entered Gloucester

Slater said the emotions began to hit him as he and the riding group entered Gloucester

‘That’s everything I aim to do. I want to add my voice to that. I am in a good headspace to be honest, as difficult as that might seem.

‘I have had a couple of really dark days and that’s why I say this has been emotional day.

‘In some ways, it is a bit of a sliding doors moment for me. I am pulling myself away from the club slowly because I don’t want to interrupt (head coach) George Skivington’s plans.

‘It is a real range of emotions. I am sure when I get home and everything is quiet, it will be quite sad in some respects. But that will soon disappear and I’ll be proud of everything I’ve done.’

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk