Dubai resident creates 24-hour cycle challenge to raise MND awareness

Sandy Stirling's challenge has expanded to 19 countries

Dubai resident Sandy Stirling, pictured with his son Angus, has devised the MND24 challenge. Victor Besa / The National

A Dubai resident will forgo sleep and rest to cycle for 24 hours around the Al Qudra Cycle Track in Dubai in an attempt to raise awareness of motor neuron disease.

Sandy Stirling, 50, this year created the MND24 global challenge in memory of his father who died of the disease in March 2019.

Mr Stirling will be cycling with six friends in Dubai on March 11 from 6pm, while people around the world are invited to create their own 24-hour challenge throughout the month to raise awareness and funds for the cause.

MND is a debilitating illness that affects a person’s ability to move, talk and breathe, and worsens over time as the motor neurons that carry messages from the brain to the muscles fail. The rare condition, which affects about 420,000 people worldwide, can lead to early paralysis and death.

The idea is not only to create awareness about MND but promote mental wellness as well
Sandy Stirling

“The 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge did a lot to raise the profile of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is a form of MND," said Mr Stirling, who has lived in the UAE for 14 years and works as a business development manager for Al Tayer Stocks.

"However, MND requires ongoing attention so that a cure can be found and more people can be helped.

“My father, who was a farmer in Scotland, always said to me, 'don’t tell someone to do something on the farm that you can’t do yourself'.

"I’m hoping my endeavour inspires others to challenge themselves and also help raise the much-needed awareness for the disease.”

Mr Stirling, a former rugby player from Scotland, only took up cycling as a sport in 2019 when he was approached by a group to bike 110 kilometres around Cape Town, South Africa, in honour of a friend who died of malaria.

He decided to turn this newfound passion into an awareness campaign with a solo 12-hour cycling challenge in 2021 and had 130 people come out to support him on the day. This year he wanted to do a 24-hour challenge to test his limits.

“I also wanted to encourage people from all over the world to participate in their own way to make this a global movement,” Mr Stirling said.

Global challenge

Since its launch, the challenge has expanded to 19 countries, including the UK, US, Cuba, Germany, France, South Africa and Australia, with people signing up to perform any activity of their choice under the “24” theme.

They can complete 24-hour solo or relay challenges, cover 24 miles (38.6km) in an endurance activity or join a virtual race.

Mr Stirling said participants have chosen a range of activities, such as strenuous sports like cycling, rugby, surfing and cricket, a therapeutic task of a silence challenge, organising performances with a 24-hour salsa routine and a music concert.

Sandy Stirling has been putting in the hours at Al Qudra Cycle Track in the lead-up to the challenge. Victor Besa / The National

Along with taking up the challenge, participants can also raise funds to support MND research and support their preferred registered charities through legal channels in their respective countries.

“I initially wanted this to be a sports challenge but realised that it would exclude a lot of people who are not sporty but want to do something for the cause," he said.

"The idea is not only to create awareness about MND but promote mental wellness as well. So, if someone finds happiness in organising a 24-hour movie marathon while also bringing attention to the cause, then that achieves our goal.”

Local support

In Dubai, residents can sign up as individuals or teams to join Mr Stirling and his group during the challenge. They can embark on the full challenge or commit to a certain number of hours to be part of the peloton.

Riders will break for a few minutes after completing every 50km of the cycle track loop to eat and regroup.

“The group who will be doing all 24 hours with me are just friends who believe in what I’m doing and want to support. But since cycling has taken off in a big way in the UAE, I’m expecting a lot of people to show an interest in this event,” Mr Stirling said.

“When people register, they can get in touch with us and indicate their preferred riding times and the number of hours that they want to commit.

“The idea is to make sure everyone is safe and having fun, so we will be managing the size of the peloton and every group will be led by experienced and strong riders in the front.”

Training for the challenge

Mr Stirling has been spending a significant part of his week on the Al Qudra Cycle Track in the lead-up to the challenge, understanding his fatigue levels and devising his food strategy.

“I’ve been training 15 to 18 hours a week and it has been intense. Between work, my family commitments and the launch of my family-owned brand in the UAE soon, this has been quite a monumental undertaking, but also very rewarding,” said the father of a 4-year-old boy who will be at the finish line on the day.

“Most people that I have shared my desire with think I am crazy for doing something like this. Even my family thinks I’m crazy. In the end, if it even makes a small difference, it’ll all be worth it.”

Updated: March 02, 2022, 11:22 AM