Son’s mammoth fundraiser for dad who died from dementia before his beloved LCFC won the League

20 November 2017

A long battle with dementia left John Widdowson barely able to communicate with his family. He could no longer speak and was only able to respond through his eyes, although this was rare.

John Widdowson

But one thing that guaranteed a response was when his son James, 43, would tell him news of his beloved Leicester City FC’s astonishing Premier League title challenge in 2016. John moved to Leicester after being discharged from National Service in the 1950s and that’s where his support for the team grew. Sadly, just before his team won the championship, John died aged 79 in a care home – but James believes it was Leicester’s extraordinary success which was one of the things that kept him holding on for so long.

James, who grew up in Leicester, is now planning to put himself through an exhausting four-day, four-race challenge in Cyprus. He’s doing this to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Research UK – the charity partner of his employer, Dyson – after seeing how dementia slowly stole his father away, and in the hope that he will be able to help save future generations from the same fate.

The father-of-three said:

“Towards the end of my father’s life, he couldn’t speak and the only way he would communicate was through his eyes. We’d try to get him to respond, I’d show him videos of his granddaughters for example, but one thing that would always get his attention was news about Leicester City FC. Every time I visited him, I always told him how they were doing, and I could tell he wanted to know.

“Leicester City FC probably provided us our best father-son trips out and the highs and the lows of the football team were always a topic of conversation. He died the day before they won the league, I think that’s something he tried to hold on for.”

James, who is Head of Competitor Intelligence at Dyson and lives in Stroud, is hoping to raise £5,000 for the UK’s leading dementia research charity by embarking on the Cyprus International 4-Day Challenge on November 23. The gruelling event will see him compete in a 6km time trial, a 12km uphill race, and a half marathon – before finishing with a 10k run in Paphos.

James Widdowson

The money James raises will be used to fund a research project exploring ways to diagnose dementia earlier. By the time John finally received a diagnosis of vascular dementia, it was over a decade after he first started showing signs.

He added:

“My dad used to be really social, he was the life and soul of his friendship group, but he started to withdraw from the things he loved. He stopped playing golf and he didn’t enjoy time with his grandchildren or friends as much as he might have done. His symptoms started long before he was diagnosed. My parents tried to keep it between themselves and we thought he was depressed. My father did have memory tests with a GP, but he passed them easily as his dementia impacted his behaviour rather than his memory. This put a huge strain on my family, because we knew there was something seriously wrong, but we didn’t know what it was until it was too late. Research into earlier diagnosis is vital as it could directly benefit every one of us, just as it may have benefited my father.”

Vicky Lake, Regional Corporate Partnerships Manager at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“It’s heartbreaking how many families, like James’, must see their loved ones disappear in front of them because of dementia – the UK’s biggest killer. While it is a tragedy, we know we can defeat it and we’ll do that through the power of research. We’re incredibly grateful that James is supporting Alzheimer’s Research UK by taking on this mammoth fundraiser, and that his funding will be going towards a very important area for us. We know that to bring about effective treatments, we must find ways to diagnose dementia earlier as the brain is being damaged long before symptoms first start to appear. By funding research in this area, we hope to be able to diagnose the condition before the damage is irreversible. We wish James the best of luck on his challenge!”

To donate to James’ fundraiser, please visit: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/james-widdowson