Charlie is the darling!
A four-year-old boy, inspired by a love of rugby and “the biggest man I know” is boosting a twin-pronged fund-raising drive in the north of Scotland.
Charlie Mackenzie has been running at least half a mile every day – and some days almost treble that – as part of Ross Sutherland Rugby Club’s March into May initiative.
He’s already raised more than £1,000, four times his initial target.
The idea of March into May – based on the hugely popular Doddie Aid earlier this year – is a fitness challenge aimed at raising funds for Ross Sutherland’s new clubhouse in Invergordon and the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, the charity launched by the former Scotland and British & Irish Lions lock, Doddie Weir, in his fight against Motor Neurone Disease.
The challenge involves five teams; Wester Ross & Skye; Easter Ross; Sutherland; Black Isle & Inverness; and Exiles to see who can clock up the most miles and fundraising over the 34 days’ duration.
Charlie, great nephew of the former Scotland prop, Gregor Mackenzie – who started at Ross Sutherland before moving on to Highland and Selkirk, was capped against Australia in 1984 and now farms in New Zealand’s South Island – came up with the idea himself.
“He said he wanted to do it and that he was going to run to the middle gates half-way up the farm road each day before nursery,” his mum Leigh told scottishrugby.org.
“He wanted to do it for the rugby club and for Doddie who he says is ‘the biggest man I know’. He keeps shouting to Alexa to play the Do’ in it for Doddie song, so we’ll get that to number one in the downloads chart from our house alone!”
The farm, Cullisse, some ten miles from Invergordon is arable, though there are also 30 cows and some days Charlie’s wee brother, 18-month-old Duncan, and mum also join in the run!
“Charlie can’t start playing rugby until he’s five. But he’s got it all mapped out. He’s going to play at Ross Sutherland until he’s 17 and then he’s going to play for Scotland!
“His granny has had him obsessed with rugby. His dad, Pete, and my father-in-law and brother-in-law have all played at Ross Sutherland, then there is his great uncle, Gregor.
“In the last few years, the club has changed from just being a rugby club to really getting out into the community and schools and the new clubhouse is going to be fantastic for the entire area,” Leigh explained.
“I’m pretty proud of Charlie. He’s already raised £1,160 and I’ve become his social media manager, looking after his Just Giving page!” Leigh, Charlie's mum
Ross Sutherland President, John Scott, who is also a farmer, is excited by what the new clubhouse can mean for both the club and the community.
“We have the largest catchment of any club in Scotland, one sixth of the country’s land mass and an area equivalent to the country of Montenegro.
“We are providing rugby for adults and children of all abilities from age five upwards with more than 100 primary school children playing regularly, another 100 secondary school children and then 80 registered senior players.
“We’ve some 20 coaches – and we’re delivering rugby coaching in seven secondaries and 41 primaries in our catchment. We’re also developing girls and women’s rugby. But March into May is about so much more than the sport we love and helping a giant of our sport against the horrible condition that is MND.
“Our new clubhouse will be brilliant, not only for us but as a meeting place for the people of Invergordon and beyond.
“We’ve no town hall in Invergordon now and as we, as a country, hopefully, come out the other side of the Covid pandemic, there is going to be such an emphasis on people and wellbeing, and we’ll be really well-positioned to help our community.”
The clubhouse is a £500,000 project which has received funding from Scottish Rugby, sportscotland, the Highland LEADER programme which supports rural development projects, FCC Communities Foundation, EB Scotland, Gordon and Ena Baxter Foundation and Hearts & Balls, among others.
Finishing touches are being undertaken at present and John Scott hopes the clubhouse could be ready for use next season.
Charlie Mackenzie is not the only fund-raiser capturing the headlines around March into May.
Becky Shaw, who is Sutherland team captain, has led a huge litter pick across the county of Sutherland, while club secretary Phil Tomalin is walking the distance to BT Murrayfield over the month.
Exiles’ captain, David Whiteford, Scottish Rugby sponsorship and sales manager, added: ‘It’s great to see Ross Sutherland pulling together their community to help raise further funds for My Name’5 Doddie Foundation.
“Doddie Aid had an incredible impact not only in raising funds but also in getting people active and working together throughout the winter months, so I was delighted to be asked to be the Exiles team captain for Ross Sutherland’s March into May in this latest effort to support an amazing cause.
“It has been great getting out on the bike to get the miles in with my enthusiastic five-year-old Monty motivating me throughout as he raises money himself.
“Obviously, this is a joint fundraiser which will see crucial funding go towards the completion of the new Ross Sutherland clubhouse.
“My involvement with Ross Sutherland began as a five-year-old through to the age of 17. I spent many a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in the old clubhouse with portable gas heaters to try and warm you back up on a cold January day.
“It’s incredible to see the new facility that is now in place, which I’m sure will draw people from across the Highlands to play and support the club."
“My rugby career took me all round the world, but I’d always look forward to a trip home to see a game in Invergordon." David Whiteford
“It was incredible timing that Ross Sutherland experienced their greatest day the year I moved back from Hong Kong, so I was lucky enough to be at BT Murrayfield as they won the National Bowl against Wigtownshire in 2018.
“There is clear evidence of the popularity of rugby in the north being on the rise. The impact of good facilities down the road at Highland Rugby Club has been incredible as they have gone from strength to strength since their re-opening of their clubhouse and pitch in 2018.
“Ross Sutherland can back that up and create a platform for talented youngsters to develop through the pathways in the sport, whilst serving as a boost to the local community post-Covid,” Whiteford added.