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David Beckham supports Hampshire’s father with motor neurone illness in his 50-mile bike journey to raise $170,000

James Clarke, 42, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in December 2021

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Senior property executive James Clarke had no family history or connections to motor neurone disease (MND). But in 2021 he was given a diagnosis that changed everything.

The 42-year-old first noticed something was wrong in May 2021 when he started slurring and fumbling over his shirt buttons. However, doctors initially attributed this to stress.

Then, two weeks before Christmas in 2021, he was diagnosed with the incurable and degenerative disease which affects the brain and nerves. He has since been determined to fundraise to help find a cure, despite having depleted speech and reduced strength in his arms.

James, who lives in Wyck near Alton in Hampshire with his wife Lottie Clarke and their children, Martha, 14, Ollie, 12, and Matilda, five, said: “When they said I had motor neurone disease (MND), it was horrendous. I felt like my body had failed me.

“But my attitude to life has completely changed. I am saying yes to everything, while I still can.” His positivity is shared by Lottie – his wife of 17 years – who also originally thought that “fit and healthy” cyclist and runner James was suffering the symptom of stress.

Lottie said: “I didn’t notice anything at first. He kept saying to me that he couldn’t grip things as well, but I just said it must be stress and that he was overworked

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But his muscles were twitching quite badly and he started to struggle doing up his shirt buttons. We had a night out with friends in July and that’s when I realised something wasn’t right.

“He had two gin and tonics and, literally, I couldn’t hear a word he was saying.”

Heading to see the doctor, James visited a neurologist for scans – but the results at that point came back clear – despite him suggesting the possibility it could be the cruel disease. Then, changes in James’ voice in October 2021 signalled to the couple that something was still not right.

Lottie said: “His voice would be fine for a few weeks and then it would just go, or sound like he had a fly in his throat. He started to lose confidence and think he was mad, because everyone kept telling him it was stress.”

Heading back to see the doctor in September, James decided to take December off, to see if it was stress that was impacting his body. But on December 15, after further test results came through, doctors confirmed the worst.

Lottie said: “When James called me and said it was motor neurone disease, I just collapsed on the bathroom floor. He has always been this competitive, super sporty person, who is so incredibly driven and never ill.

“I couldn’t believe it. We were devastated.” Trying to digest the news and not frighten their children, James and Lottie “drip-fed” information about his health to them.

Lottie said: “We were very careful not to name his illness, so they didn’t Google it. But, eventually, James wanted them to know

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Senior property executive James Clarke had no family history or connections to motor neurone disease (MND). But in 2021 he was given a diagnosis that changed everything.

The 42-year-old first noticed something was wrong in May 2021 when he started slurring and fumbling over his shirt buttons. However, doctors initially attributed this to stress.

Then, two weeks before Christmas in 2021, he was diagnosed with the incurable and degenerative disease which affects the brain and nerves. He has since been determined to fundraise to help find a cure, despite having depleted speech and reduced strength in his arms.



James, who lives in Wyck near Alton in Hampshire with his wife Lottie Clarke and their children, Martha, 14, Ollie, 12, and Matilda, five, said: “When they said I had motor neurone disease (MND), it was horrendous. I felt like my body had failed me.

“But my attitude to life has completely changed. I am saying yes to everything, while I still can.” His positivity is shared by Lottie – his wife of 17 years – who also originally thought that “fit and healthy” cyclist and runner James was suffering the symptom of stress.


Lottie said: “I didn’t notice anything at first. He kept saying to me that he couldn’t grip things as well, but I just said it must be stress and that he was overworked.


“But his muscles were twitching quite badly and he started to struggle doing up his shirt buttons. We had a night out with friends in July and that’s when I realised something wasn’t right.

“He had two gin and tonics and, literally, I couldn’t hear a word he was saying.”


Heading to see the doctor, James visited a neurologist for scans – but the results at that point came back clear – despite him suggesting the possibility it could be the cruel disease. Then, changes in James’ voice in October 2021 signalled to the couple that something was still not right.


Lottie said: “His voice would be fine for a few weeks and then it would just go, or sound like he had a fly in his throat. He started to lose confidence and think he was mad, because everyone kept telling him it was stress.”

Heading back to see the doctor in September, James decided to take December off, to see if it was stress that was impacting his body. But on December 15, after further test results came through, doctors confirmed the worst.

Lottie said: “When James called me and said it was motor neurone disease, I just collapsed on the bathroom floor. He has always been this competitive, super sporty person, who is so incredibly driven and never ill.

“I couldn’t believe it. We were devastated.” Trying to digest the news and not frighten their children, James and Lottie “drip-fed” information about his health to them.

Lottie said: “We were very careful not to name his illness, so they didn’t Google it. But, eventually, James wanted them to know.


“We waited until Easter, when we were due to be going away to Cyprus, so we would have that time together, and explained to them that we are doing our best to find something – like a treatment that will hold symptoms at bay – but this is a terminal illness and their dad might not recover.”

James added: “Telling them was awful. They were upset but they have been amazing and so resilient. They are still in a safe environment with two parents who love them and we are making life as normal for them as we can.”

Within two weeks James had organised a 50-mile off-road cycling route from Hayling Island to Binsted along the Shipwrights Way in aid of the MND charity, My Name’5 Doddie. The charity was founded by former Scottish rugby player, Doddie Weir OBE, who also has the disease

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Lottie, who is preparing to run a marathon next year in Leeds, while some of their friends will be swimming from Europe to Asia to raise money for MND research, said: “Everything we are doing is because we don’t want anybody to have to go through what we have been through.

“Motor neurone disease robs you of everything, literally everything. People often say it isn’t painful, but they don’t see the mental anguish and the pain that I see James go through every day.

“And it sounds ridiculous, but we are the lucky ones. We have a lovely family, a home and access to private healthcare and not everyone has that.”

While the couple are focusing their energy on fundraising and finding a cure, they are also cherishing every moment they can enjoy together. Lottie said: “We are going away every few weeks at the moment together to make memories.”

She added: “We went away to one of our favourite places in Fethiye, Turkey, where we have gone with the kids since they were tiny and we swam together, had boat trips and just relaxed in the sunshine.

“We went to Norfolk a few weeks ago and we just spent time on the beach having BBQs and paddle boarding. On the last night, on one of our favourite beaches, I caught James having some tears and he said: ‘I think this will be the last time’.

“But I said: ‘It won’t be the last time, I will make sure you get back here.'” Meanwhile, with the support of his family, his friends and the many people who have boosted his fundraising pot, James is remaining positive.

He said: “Coming to the end of the 50-mile ride, I was very emotional and seeing everyone there waiting for me was really humbling. You never really know how much love is around you until something like this happens.

“It just makes me want to do more.” Jill Douglas, CEO of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, has been impressed by James’ sunny outlook.

She said: “James’ story is incredibly inspiring and we are so thankful to his friends, family and colleagues for supporting our cause. It is because of people like James that we can continue to fund our vital research into finding a cure for MND.

“Like Doddie, he is giving so much of his precious time to raise funds to hopefully put an end to this disease.” James has raised a total of £170k for research into the incurable condition.


Wife Lottie continued: “Some days, James can find it very hard to fight because there is so little hope with this disease. But I strongly believe this is not the end of our story.

“I am confident that if we can keep James as well as we can for as long as we can, we will find something, anything, to stabilise the condition. We’re not asking for our old life back, that is gone forever, but we can still build a really exciting future with what we have now.”

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