Impressive athlete who fundraises prolifically, from rugby to obstacle events, is ‘happiest in skydiving’ when he ‘falls as fast as anyone else’ because multiple sclerosis l left in a wheelchair. Mark Webb, 53, first felt the symptoms of the lifelong wasting disease affecting the brain and spinal cord when he went to look after his crying two-year-old child in the night in 2007 and is found temporarily paralyzed – leading to a diagnosis of MS later that year. .
Despite losing control of his legs and reduced grip in both hands, as well as a weakened left arm, an avid triathlon runner before he was ill, the former social media manager who doesn’t can’t work now, has raised thousands of pounds for charity via active pursuits. Mark, who lives in Dunstable Downs, Bedfordshire, with his wife Joanne Webb, 53, the council’s chief executive, and their sons Samuel, 16, and Toby, 11, said: ‘The only places I feel like anyone else are when I’m skydiving and I’m falling as fast as anyone else, or when I’m in the water.
“We hope to be in the Maldives before too long and I can spend two weeks floating in the water, feeling like everyone else and hearing my family happy and laughing. I also plan to use a seaplane, which takes off and lands on water. It’s an out of body experience, I love it.
“It’s so out of my comfort zone and I can experience something totally new. It takes me away from everything and it’s so good for my mental health.
While observers think Mark’s exploits are remarkable, he sees everything from rugby to Tough Mudder obstacle challenges as an escape from the restrictions placed on him by MS. He said: “In everyday life, I find myself constantly calculating and predicting the next risk I need to overcome.
“But when I fall through the air while indoor skydiving, or float in water, or get beaten in a wheelchair rugby match, I’m freed from all my worries and I can just forget about MS.” A former ski rep in his youth, Mark also hopes to try indoor sit-skiing in the coming months.
He said: “I get a bigger adrenaline buzz than anyone else doing these things, because I’m so far out of my comfort zone. There is a huge sense of accomplishment when I take on a new challenge and I know I can be an example for others.
“I know I can get people to rethink their attitude to MS and other disabilities. Just because you’ve been diagnosed with MS doesn’t mean you have to give up on your ambitions.
Mark discovered he was seriously ill when his wife took him to see his GP after his temporary paralysis overnight, only for the diagnosis of MS to follow six months later. Known as ‘snowflake disease’ because of its unique effects on each patient, Mark said: “I had no idea what MS was. I was in shock and denial.
“Googling I just saw all this bad news and figured I had a few minutes to live.” Fortunately, Mark had the incredible support of Joanne, whom he met when they both worked for Disney in Paris in 1999, when he now realizes that the tingling he felt spasmodically were indicators future MS.
While working in television production, Mark said: “I immediately fell in love with his blue eyes and his laughter – even at my bad jokes. It took her a few months to notice me and when she did she thought I was gay.
Fortunately, a drunken kiss in January 1999 sealed the deal and they were married at the end of the year, forging a deep love that saw them through good times and challenges. Experiencing rapid deterioration in the first year following his diagnosis, Mark was forever grateful for Joanne’s unfailing support as he began to ‘walk around like a drunk’ and suffer recurrent falls.
He said: “I had a particularly bad fall in 2012 when I smashed my head and my son, who was then only six, had to call 999. I needed stitches and this was definitely a red flag that i needed to start using an aid and get more help.
Thanks to a crowd-funded £13,000 motorized all-terrain wheelchair, Mark is still enjoying great days with Joanne and her children, exploring the Dunstable Downs landscape surrounding his home. His fundraising efforts have also raised £20,000 for two causes close to his heart – Shift.ms and the Chilterns MS Centre.
He said: “I was a sack of potatoes when I did the Tough Mudder in Bristol, but I had a brilliant team around me who got me through all the odds. I was almost sick after just the first hurdle, it was so exhausting, but it was just amazing.
“I feel this tremendous sense of purpose to raise money for these charities and my local MS center. I can’t run a marathon like other people so I have to do something stupid and I love it.
Playing wheelchair rugby at least once a month for the Bournemouth Lions is another favorite pastime. He said: “I played rugby until I was 18 as a captain, which I can’t do anymore, but I can play wheelchair rugby.
“I am 53 years old and I practice contact sports. If I didn’t have MS, I probably wouldn’t. It’s brilliant. Determined to see the pros as well as the cons of his condition, he says MS also means he is constantly present in his children’s lives.
He said: “I’m very aware of what MS keeps me from doing, but what I can do is be there for my sons whenever I’m awake. I know it must be hard for them and they must be worried.
“But, generally, they are happy children. I work hard to be a good father to them in my own way.
He’s also learned to be honest about how he feels and to acknowledge it if he’s having a bad day. He said: “On bad days, I’ll say I’m having a bad day, but I also have that sense of purpose that keeps me going.
“I’m in love with my wife and I have two amazing kids, which means I force myself out of bed when sometimes I probably should stay in it. I don’t want people’s sympathy, I want fun. I I’m still me, I’m just a little different.
Joanne also acknowledges that Mark’s illness has affected the whole family, although she is full of admiration for her incredible husband. She said: “I vividly remember the day he was diagnosed as we sort of drifted off into a daze.
“When someone is diagnosed, it has a huge impact on everyone’s life, but there’s no need to dwell and be glum about it. Mark used to say, “My name is Mark Webb and I have MS”, but he is much more than that.
“He’s also a father, a husband and a weirdo with no sense of fashion! You have these three stages of grief and mourning over a life you know you can’t have – but also you just need to get out of it.
“We’re so privileged that we have two incredibly fantastic boys and they don’t know anything different. They don’t know a dad who can run around in the garden, but they know a dad who’s in a wheelchair and he’s an absolute weirdo .
“He’s been a really great, supportive dad who wants to get involved in a lot of things that a lot of able-bodied dads don’t. And all of the challenges he’s taken on to raise money for charity are incredible. It’s like he’s found his calling in normalizing disability and being positive.
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