By Damian Dolan
An Oxfordshire ladies Gaelic footballer has helped raise more than £150,000 to combat Motor Neurone Disease by completing every Summer Olympics event.
Charlotte Nichols, who plays for Eire Og GAA club in Oxford, and Stuart Bates completed all 102 of the individual events in which athletes at Tokyo 2020 competed.
They undertook them all within the 17-day duration of the games.
They set themselves the challenge in memory of Stuart’s brother, Spencer, who died from Motor Neurone Disease (MND), aged just 49, in 2011.
“For us to get the opportunity to raise this huge amount of money was a privilege,” said Stuart.
The pair tried their hand at everything from diving to shot put, and synchronised swimming to horse riding, before finishing their final event, the marathon, on the last day of Tokyo 2020.
“I fell in love with boxing; I was terrible. I fought a guy who’d not lost in 36 fights, and got completely battered,” said Stuart, who has family from Cork on his mum’s side.
Charlotte, whose mother’s side of her family come from Mayo, said: “We loved every sport in its own way – the variety itself was the most fun thing of all.
“We really enjoyed the surfing and the climbing.”
A medical student at Bristol University, Charlotte has been a Mayo supporter for “as long as I can remember”.
She’s also in her third season with Eire Og ladies’ team and says the Oxfordshire GAA club have been hugely supportive of their fundraising endeavour.
“They’ve been brilliant; they’ve been promoting it right from the very start,” she said.
“I came across the team three years back, and I haven’t looked back since. I should be coming into it [the reminder of the GAA season] in good shape!”
Stuart and Charlotte had hoped to raise £10,000 for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, – but the final figure may far overtake that and reach £200,000, with a black-tie dinner planned, as well as other activities.
The Association called their achievement “awe-inspiring”.
MND affects the brain and nerves. 1,500 people are diagnosed with the disease every year in the UK.
There is no cure and most people die within one to two years of diagnosis.
Stuart wants to raise money for MND to repay the charity for the “incredible care” they gave to his brother.
“Spenny was a fabulous musician and during the time he was ill he arranged five concerts – we called them Spennystock – right up to the point that he couldn’t hold the sticks, and he was having them taped to his hands in the most ridiculous show of bravery and courage.
“He was so passionate about raising money and awareness for the MND Association, and wanted his legacy to be that we would take this on.”
Stuart and Charlotte’s novel fundraiser gained widespread media coverage after they featured on BBC Breakfast, just prior to the start of Tokyo 2020.
From there, everything just “snowballed” says Charlotte.
“We’ve been on three major American television networks – CNN, CBS and NBC – and we’ve been in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Ghana, and we were on TV in Japan throughout the Olympics,” she said.
“All my family in Ireland were suddenly texting me to say ‘you’re on the morning show on Virgin Media’. I was like ‘are we?’. It was ridiculous.”
Stuart added: “We feel we’ve had the attention on us that every fundraiser for the charity deserves, but isn’t lucky enough to get. So this is for everybody who raises money for motor neurone disease.”
Wanting to find a special way of marking the ten-year anniversary of Spencer’s death on 31 August, Stuart came up with the idea in December.
“I wanted to mark it in a big way and try and do something that no one else had done before, and I hit upon this idea,” he said.
He recalls calling Charlotte to tell her.
“I assumed she’d say, ‘don’t be so stupid’, but she said ‘that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard. We have to do it’,” said Stuart.
Charlotte suggested completing all of the events during the course of the 17 days of the Tokyo games.
“That was just perfect, but it made it ridiculously difficult – logistically and physically,” he added.
They officially launched their fundraiser on 1 January, but planning was made even more difficult by Covid-19 restrictions in place at the time.
“I was studying to be a doctor, I was doing exams and had medical school, so it was busy and there were some stressful points in the middle of it. It was very full on.”
The hectic schedule saw them undertake events across Bristol, Oxford, London, Reading and Dorset, with the aid of 60 Olympians as ambassadors.
What’s next? Charlotte and Stuart say they’re now looking at taking on the challenge of the Winter Olympics, which take place in Beijing, China, in February 2023.
And they’ve already checked out a dry ski slope.
“I think the world needs to see us do the Winter Spennylympics. My life-time ambition now is to see Charlotte ski jump. That would be brilliant,” said Stuart.