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Long Read Interview: Martyn Clarke

Today is the last day of Martyn Clarke’s remarkable seven half ironman triathlons in seven days. That in itself is an amazing story of selflessness and charity, but according to the man himself, there’s a much wider more jaw-dropping story behind the seven in seven he aims to complete today.

In an exclusive interview with Serious About Rugby League, Martyn talked us through exactly how his seven in seven challenge was born and why it was so important to him to support a legend like Rob Burrow.

It’s almost exactly two years since the former Leeds scrum-half was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and in the two years since he’s inspired the whole world to come together to help fight the disease with former skipper Kevin Sinfield raising £5 million to help in the fight against the awful disease.

Following in the footsteps of Burrow and Sinfield, Martyn has helped inspired thousands of people across the planet to take on MND and raise money and awareness to help make the lives of those who face it daily easier. But just how did Martyn’s challenge come about?

“We started putting it together four months ago, but the idea can be traced back to Kevin Sinfield’s seven in seven,” Martyn told Serious About Rugby League, “After that I locally ran here in Wigan 12 in 12, 12 mile run every day for the 12 days of Christmas, which was linked to an endurance store here in Wigan.

“Seeing Kev finish his marathons and Rob’s documentary had struck a cord with me because I’m a former rugby league amateur coach and my son has played since he was six and he’s nearly 17 and he plays the same position as Rob, so there’s little similarities and seeing Rob I just thought that’s not right really.

“So I went out and did the 12 in 12 and raised £6,500. It was very low key but we raised quite a lot of money within 10 days because people kept donating because it was for Rob and motor neurone disease.

“Because I do running and triathlons as an amateur anyway, and because I always wanted to do a multi day event to test myself, and I was thinking it’s nearly too late because I’m nearly 50, I had it in my head to attempt multiple Ironmans.

“There’s a documentary on Amazon about a guy called the Iron Cowboy and he did 50 Ironmans in 50 days. His name is James Lawrence and I’ve been in contact with him and he planted the seed a little bit.

“This summer I went out and did a pretty tough half Ironman event and I didn’t feel too bad after it, I felt tired but I didn’t feel too bad. So I thought is it possible to do something more flatish around winter time when it’s cooler and do seven for Rob?”

From there the amazing challenge of doing seven half Ironmans in seven days was born, but that’s just the start of this amazing story which has brought the whole world together in the fight against MND stretching out as far as Africa.

Not only would Martyn swim 1.2miles (1.9km), then cycle 56miles (90km) before running a 13.1mile (21km) half marathon everyday for 7 days, he also managed to spread Burrow’s defiant stance against MND far and wide.

“I work for a large company called Adient, we make seats for all the car manufacturers around the world and I put Rob’s story on our intranet site and they all came back in different countries and said ‘how can we help?'” Martyn Explained.

“My friend Dave in Detroit has got all MND shirts, they don’t know who Rob is but they want to help and they ran a half marathon last Saturday. Whilst my friend Alan in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, he ran back to back half marathons.

“Friends in Macedonia biking and running, guys in Belgium mountain biking, the senior leadership team in Cologne all have their T-shirt’s and ran a half marathon distance last weekend.

“So it’s turned into something where you think Live Aid but think triathlon. A guy called Hector Pardoe who’s a GB Olympic swimmer and lives in Montpellier in France is going out and swimming 1.2 miles which is the Ironman distance every day in his pool for Rob.

“The central hub of it all will be in Wigan with about 50 people everyone’s dipping their toe in with a bike, a swim or a run and I’m going to do all 21 legs.”

But this inclusive story full of amazing characters taking the fight to an awful disease doesn’t end there with some familiar names lending their support to Martyn’s amazing effort as well: “On the back off that we got some ambassadors involved thanks to Motor Neurone Disease Association to represent the closeness to Rob. We got a lady called Cris Hoskin who was on BBC Breakfast with Kevin Sinfield when he announced his 101 mile run and as it happens she lives 600 yards away from my house.

“She’s running everything, she’s sorting out forms, sorting out raffle tickets, she’s everywhere and she’s lost six people to MND including two of her youngest children.

“She was the first ambassador, then Brad Singleton made contact and Brad Dwyer. They know what it’s all about and we’ve got another guy, Lee, who’s gone under the radar a bit. He’s been training me every week for free, basically opening his gym up for me and training me for an hour until I couldn’t stand.

“Trevor Painter and Jenny Meadows, the Olympic coaches of Keely Hodgkinson, have really helped too. I wanted to bring them in from a run angle because there’s nearly 100 miles of running in this and they did that whilst Mike James, an endurance physio, has been sending tips and inspirational messages.

“Annie Emmerson is a former duathlete and she’s come in to help cover all the sports and is good friends with the Brownlee brothers who have also supported but Annie has been integral.

“But in the middle of all of this is Rob.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg with Super League referee Liam Moore – who officiated the Super League Grand Final in 2021 – getting involved this week too.

However, despite the wealth of support he received, Martyn explained how difficult it was even before he began running: “I’ve not had a sabbatical from work, I’ve had no media manager until recently Redmoor Health who took over social media. But for three months I had to work on this till 2 in the morning as well as working 10 hours a day, every day of the week.

“So, I’d like to thank Marc Schmid for sorting that out for me because without it I might have been down and out before the event having to wake up at 3 am and make notes and then try to go back to sleep. He’s been a life saver.”

Meanwhile, Leigh Centurions owner Derek Beaumont has played a massive part in all of this: “Derek Beaumont has given us great support and he plans on cycling multiple legs and he gave us £1000 at the drop of a hat to smash our first target.”

Leigh have given massive support to Martyn this week with him introducing Centurions fans to new signing John Asiata from the NRL on Wednesday to help boost the media attention around his challenge. Since, Asiata has sent his own message of support to Martyn this week on Twitter.

Even the other code of rugby have supported Martyn’s amazing challenge as well: “Even more jaw dropping than that was being invited to Sale Sharks, Paul Deacon invited me in. I went in there expecting to talk about it for 10 minutes and was there for about six hours and I was asked to present to the whole squad and staff which was amazing.

“After that they began to follow and support it. Manu Tuilagi is getting a shirt signed for me by Owen Farrell to auction off. He’s all over this and he’s an England international, so it’s jaw dropping really.”

But the most inspiring people Martyn met were the Burrow family themselves who simply affirmed his need to take on such a gruelling challenge to give them hope of a better tomorrow: “I met Rob and his family. They remind me of my own family, hard working and humble, down to earth. So, that’s another reason to do it. So when the pain kicks in that’ll be in my mind.

“I used to say get hold of the little so and so as a Wigan fan but we never could get hold of him and that’s why he won everything. But I’m a rugby fan first and foremost and if you play great rugby, you play great rugby. My son plays, I see similarities in size and stature to Rob but to see Rob get ragged and banged by these big guys, receive big hits time after time, year after year and then for this to happen out of the blue for no reason. I lost my mum to cancer 12 years ago, so sometimes life isn’t fair and this is one of those times where life isn’t fair.

“As a friend of mine said ‘if you don’t do it Martyn no one else will.’ So that’s always ringing in my ears. I could sit with my feet up and wish him well, but instead let’s get stuck in and do something.”

Martyn has passed his second target of £17,777 now with a total of £18,017 for MNDA but you can still add to that amazing tally by donating here.

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