Daniher’s Drive: Hitting the road to fight MND

After losing his father to motor neurone disease (MND), Gareth Roberts hopes Daniher’s Drive will help others be spared the same devastation.

It’s been 10 years since Gareth Roberts lost his beloved dad to motor neurone disease (MND), but he’s only ready to talk about it now.

Ian Roberts was a vibrant and fit 55-year-old who was given the shock diagnosis after experiencing knee pain and undergoing tests.

“It was a life-changing diagnosis for everyone in the family,” Gareth says.

A month later, Ian had “a little bit of a limp and muscle twitching” in his upper arms, but by mid-year he was relying on a walking stick and his motor control was affected.

“He lost the ability to talk. He lost the ability to walk or use his arms,” Gareth says.

“He was basically bedridden for the last couple of months and struggled to communicate.

“That was the hardest part of the lot — knowing it affected his motor control but not his mental faculties.”

Daniher’s Drive: Finding inspiration in MND heartbreak

Ian died in October 2013, less than two years after his diagnosis, at the age of 56.

But he inspired his son until the end.

Despite having little motor control in his legs, Ian mounted a horse for the first time while battling the disease.

Gareth will participate in this year’s Daniher’s Drive FightMND fundraiser, from  October 12 to 15, in memory of his father.

“He never dwelt on the fact he had a terminal illness,” Gareth says.

“He would take every day as a bit of a blessing and would do whatever he could to enjoy life.”

Gareth was only 31 when his dad died.

“It was heartbreaking – knowing my future children wouldn’t get to know Dad and knowing that my mum, who had been amazing through this, was going to have to learn to live by herself.”

But his dad had found a way to be present for the future grandchildren he wouldn’t get to meet.

Before losing the ability to speak, Ian recorded himself reading children’s book My Grandpa and Me and also made a recording to place inside a bear so Gareth’s future kids — Sam, 7, and Ellie, 5 — could hear his voice.

“My kids have that book and little bear and they can listen to Papa reading them a bedtime story whenever they want,” Gareth says.

“We try and keep his memory alive with my kids, even though they weren’t fortunate enough to meet him.”

Doing Daniher’s Drive for Dad

Gareth and his dad shared a special relationship, which included playing tennis, racquetball, squash and table tennis together.

Gareth’s memories also include the many cars Ian owned, especially his 1981 Skoda 120L.

“It was a faded orange, slightly beaten-up, very cheap old car to get back and forth to work in, but he just loved that thing,” Gareth says.

“He’d take us on family outings every week in it. We would go up to Macedon to see the grandparents and basically go anywhere.”

In January, Gareth bought the same model for $250. Since then, he’s dedicated his weekends to getting it road ready and completing paintwork so it looks exactly like his dad’s, right down to the “turbo” sticker on the back.

Gareth will drive the car in the annual Daniher’s Drive FightMND four-day road trip through Victoria’s Swan Hill, Shepparton and Creswick.

Gareth, who will take part in Daniher’s Drive with brother-in-law Alex, says: “This is part of me coming to terms with losing Dad 10 years on.

“I thought it’d be nice, on the 10-year anniversary, to give back to FightMND and bring a bit more awareness and raise money,” he says.

“I want to make sure that my kids and their generation don’t have to go through this. We shouldn’t be losing people in the prime of their life to something like this.”

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Written by Kate Salemme.