Mike Tindall: ‘Climbing the Pyrenees to raise money for Parkinson’s’

Mike Tindall departs on a charity bike ride to raise money for a Parkinson's charity this weekend.
Mike Tindall departs on a charity bike ride to raise money for a Parkinson's charity this weekend.
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HE IS renowned for his brilliant rugby career and ordinarily this weekend he would be back in the Broad Acres surrounded by horses.

Yet, instead, a 735km cycle challenge across the Pyrenees is next on the agenda for Mike Tindall.

From an early age, though, Otley Rugby Club was in the DNA.

Mike Tindall

The England World Cup-winning centre flies out to France tomorrow to embark on the historic Raid Pyrenean, a route that takes in many of the Tour De France’s famous climbs and reaches 12,800m of ascent.

Tindall – whose wife Zara continues competing at Bramham Horse trials this morning – is doing so in aid of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust, the charity for whom he has been a patron for many years.

It is one which is close to his own heart given his father Phillip – a former captain of Otley rugby club – has been suffering from the condition since 2003, the year his son famously helped lift the Webb Ellis Cup in Sydney.

The Yorkshireman, 40, is part of a 13-strong team taking on the arduous challenge including his good friend Iain Balshaw, the former Leeds Tykes winger and fellow World Cup winner.

Tindall revealed in April how his father’s condition had deteriorated in recent years, but how is he now as his son gears up for his latest challenge?

Speaking exclusively with The Yorkshire Post, Tindall said: “Currently he’s on a cruise around the Med’ – which is something they haven’t done for a few years.

“But he’s crossed a barrier now where it doesn’t matter what drugs come out or what cures, remedies, reverses as he’s properly been affected by the disease with his body shape and spine and everything else.

“Even if we did find a cure he’d still be in quite a bit of pain.

“But every day is a challenge. Some days he has great days and some days are really miserable and that’s just the nature of Parkinson’s.

“They battle to try and get the right state in terms of his medication and if they do do that they can get good days and they can do things.

“The worse case scenario is they never leave the house.

“We all know that finding a cure for Parkinson’s is not an easy thing to do but together we can make a difference and that’s what will be firing me up those steep ascents to raise as much money as possible to help fund the Trust’s pioneering research.”

Tindall concedes he’s not really even a keen cyclist but a random conversation with the Trust’s CEO Will Cook led to his involvement and he roped in Balshaw, too, who finished off his career in the south of France with Biarittz five years ago.

“Balsh has been wanting a challenge so I said ‘here you go!’” explained Tindall.

“He still lives out there and we start out in San Sebastian which is just around the corner from his house so he hasn’t far to travel. I’ve done some challenges before, like a quadrathlon, but haven’t done anything that will prepare me for the amount of climbs we’ll have to do in this.

“We’re not there, though, to set records; we’re just there to get it done.”

As a hard-running, no-nonsense style centre, Otley-born Tindall found fame with Bath and Gloucester and earned 75 caps for his country.

He never did get to play in his home county, although he revealed he had hoped to join Leeds Tykes when they were in the Premiership and 
signing players of the ilk of All Blacks scrum-half Justin Marshall.

“It came up but it was always the wrong time,” explained Tindall.

“I was either still in contract or things just didn’t come together.

“I’d have loved to have played up there when Balsh’ was there (2004-06) and people like Justin (Marshall) had signed.

“But it just didn’t come together unfortunately; a lot of things need to fall into line.

“When Stuart Lancaster was there, too, he did such a great job, and it is such a shame we still don’t really have a powerful rugby club in Yorkshire.”

Tindall – who retired in 2014 – had also hoped to represent Otley where his father and so many of his family had featured before.

“Unfortunately my dad got injured very early and had to retire at 27 so I never got to see him play as a young lad,” he said.

“My brother did, though, and after my dad finished I do remember going to watch Otley a lot.

“My dad’s four brothers, most of those played for Otley and quite a lot of their sons all played for them, too.

“It was a bit of a thing playing for Otley and I always thought that once I retired I’d go and play one or two games for them.

“But it just didn’t quite work out that way. With professional rugby, it became quite difficult to do that, dropping down a league in terms of registration.

“From an early age, though, Otley Rugby Club was in the DNA.”

Although born there, the Tindalls soon moved north to Ripon and later lived in Badsworth, near Pontefract and the Sandal area of Wakefield where he attended Queen Elizabeth Grammar School.

“I have really happy memories. from QEGS; brilliant memories,” he recalled, Tindall joining Bath straight from there aged 18.

“It was a great school. We had a golden era and won the Daily Mail Cup Final three years in a row. I would never say I was the keenest of pupils but I loved my sport and it set me up pretty well in that respect.”

His parents now live in Huddersfield and he would normally be in the area this weekend to watch his wife – daughter of Princess Anne – competing at Bramham, near Wetherby.

Eventing World Champion in 2006, when she also won BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Zara Tindall won a silver medal in the team event at the 2012 London Olympics and is striving to get to next year’s Games.

Tindall, who lives in Gloucestershire and has two daughters Mia, five and Lena, who celebrates her first birthday in 10 days time, said: “I want to be up there (Bramham).

“But I’ve something on Friday night and then fly out for the cycle on Sunday so it just doesn’t really allow me to get up and down the motorway with the kids. Zara has really been looking forward to Bramham. She has a huge year ahead of her when all roads lead to Tokyo.

“It started really well and hopefully it will continue that way but we’ll have to wait and see. It’s a tricky old game those horses; you’re relying on them just as much as you are relying on yourself.

“It’s not like an individual sport or a team sport where you can talk to the guy to your left or to your right; you’re dealing with a 500 kilo horse who, if he doesn’t want to do what you want him to, can be a bit of a nightmare!”

To sponsor Mike Tindall’s challenge visit https://pledgit.net/the-aegis-coast-to-coast-to-cure-challenge or www.cureparkinsons.org.uk for more information.