IN FOCUS: My Name’5 Doddie Foundation
There cannot have been a more compelling piece of television this year, or perhaps any year, than Doddie Weir: One More Try.
In the superb BBC documentary, fellow Scotland rugby internationalist John Beattie follows Doddie and the Weir family’s remarkable journey since diagnosis with motor neurone disease [MND] in 2016, a story which is in turn shocking, uplifting, humbling, powerful, upsetting and ultimately, truly inspirational. If you have not seen it so far, you must.
Since the documentary was broadcast, Doddie has been back on our screens again, receiving the Helen Rollason Award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards.
Both appearances prompted an outpouring of support, goodwill, and frankly, love for this hugely popular figure, a wonderful person and player who earned not just 61 international caps for Scotland, but also a place in the heart of rugby supporters everywhere.
At the core of Doddie’s mission to find a cure for MND is the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, the charity he set up to raise funds for research into the disease. The Foundation’s profile has never been higher following recent media exposure, and after already committing £4 million to research projects, the team and trustees will now look to new ways of highlighting the cause.
The recording and launch of a ‘Dodcast’ series is imminent, where Doddie will talk about his life before diagnosis, and the challenges in everyday living he has faced since then. The Foundation envisages the podcast as becoming a valuable online resource tool for anyone diagnosed or affected by MND, giving them further understanding of how Doddie has coped with his symptoms by expanding on the revealing insight provided by the BBC documentary.
Fundraising will be in focus later this month (28 December), when Newcastle Falcons face the Scottish Rugby's new FOSROC Super6 side Southern Knights (franchise of Melrose Rugby) at Kingston Park, as two of Doddie’s former teams compete for the Doddie Club Trophy. Then in April, rugby legends, sporting stars and celebrities from TV will join riders on the 1000-mile route of the Great Rugby Cycle 2020 around Ireland.
In addition, there are countless other fundraising events taking place, ranging from golf days and dinners to trekking in the Atlas Mountains and rowing the Atlantic.
“We have always had incredible support, but there has been a real step-up in the last couple of weeks,” says broadcaster Jill Douglas, chief executive of the Foundation.
“There has been a big shift in people getting in touch. Some of the letters and messages are deeply emotional, and that dialogue is very important because it shows the reach that awareness can achieve, through Doddie’s profile.”
The Foundation offers support to individuals affected by MND, through making grants available, but the main objective of fundraising is to support the search for a cure.
“We want to invest the money we are raising very wisely in MND research,” says Jill. “We talk twice a year with our scientific advisory panel, seeking information, collaborating and also challenging them – such as asking why something might be taking so long, what can we do to make this happen more quickly?
“It is heartening how much is going on, and we are hugely encouraged by the work that is taking place. Next year there will be two big opportunities for MND patients, with platform trials. If you are a cancer patient you are automatically put on a clinical trial, but there has been nothing for MND patients. I think that will change in 2020.”
The Foundation has never set itself any targets from year to year, preferring instead to stay true to Doddie’s vision of finding a cure. Nevertheless, it is inevitable that as we look ahead to the new year, there are milestones in sight. One of the most difficult scenes in the One More Try documentary comes when Doddie, relentlessly stoic and irrepressibly upbeat virtually throughout, can’t contain his emotion as thoughts turn to his 50th birthday in July next year.
“He does get emotional about landmark moments such as that,” says Jill, “but we know he will be going strong. He loves a party, and we will mark the occasion in fine style.
“And it’s not just about his 50th. We are already making plans for the 2021 Lions tour to South Africa, and we fully expect Doddie will be there with us, raising awareness about MND and the need for a cure.”
To donate to the My Name'5 Doddie Foundation, go to www.myname5doddie.co.uk/donate
Donald Walker offers a guest perspective as a former Sports Editor and then Deputy Editor of The Scotsman from 1998 to 2019 and is writing a series on rugby.