Tourette's sufferers take on Rover Tween canoe challenge

THREE Borders Tourette's syndrome suffererers took on the might of the River Tweed at the weekend and won.

Wednesday, 21st July 2010, 11:25 am
Updated Wednesday, 21st July 2010, 11:25 am

John Davidson, from Galashiels - who shot to fame in a series of BBC documentaries about him and his condition - along with fellow 'Touretters' Paul Stevenson from Scremerston and Stuart Colquhoun took on the challenge to paddle from Galafoot to Berwick in a two-day 80-mile charity stint.

And although the mission was fraught with danger - Paul falling by the wayside at the 11th hour, after being injured at the weir under Coldstream bridge - John and Stuart made it to Berwick's West End on schedule, making more than 3,500 for Tourette Scotland in the process.

Tourettes can manifest itself in many ways, but perhaps the best known symptom – probably because of John's appearances on television – is the uncontrollable swearing and tics. On this trip, the swearing was not a problem, except for those who happened to be looking for a quiet stroll along the riverbank, but the tics were likely to cause a problem as the involuntary jerks could easily capsize the boat.

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John told The Berwickshire News this week: "That was fantastic, absolutely the best time of my life, and definitely the hardest thing I have ever done.

"I'm tired, I'm sore, but I'm so proud of what me and the rest of the team achieved.

"It would be a major challenge for any fit man, but for us, with the tics, and the medication which leaves you with muscle fatigue, tiredness and nausea, it was out of this world."

The crew took nine hours to paddle to Cornhill on the Saturday - five hours behind schedule.

John said: "That was mostly because of the amount of times I was capsizing the kayak. Very early on, I developed a compulsion to keep turning it over and that just got worse the more I tried to stop. It was driving me nuts!

"But we eventually got into the flow of things. The rapids in certain areas of the Tweed were absolutely immense. I had to get out and walk past some of them, but Paul and Stu were fantastic."

But it was the next day that things started to go wrong.

The bridge at Coldstream has a fast-flowing section which put paid to Paul's challenge. He capsized and hit his shoulder on a rock. Team safety man Roddy Gladstone assessed his injury and told him the bad news – the shoulder was dislocated and Paul's challenge was over.

John said: "It was a huge disappointment for Paul as it was his idea to do the challenge in the first place.

"He took it quite badly as he was so desperate to finish.

"It was a bit of a downer for the rest of us as well, but we just kept going on, saying we were going to do it for Paul.

"The second part was not as far – we covered three-quarters of the distance on the Saturday – but as the river widened the flow slowed down and it was really hard work.

"There were more than 60 people at Berwick to welcome us when we got there – friends, family, other Tourettes sufferers from across the country, as well as the media – and the feeling of relief and sense of pride were simply overwhelming. I have to thank the entire support crew, especially Tom Gilbert and Sam Ritchie of the Tweed Canoe Club, who were absolutely brilliant.

"Marshalls of Berwick has to be thanked for its support, as do Carrie and Mort Tweedie of the High Buckholmside shop."

As well as raising money for Tourette Scotland, John also does a great deal of work for the charity in an effort to raise the profile of the condition.

He also runs an adult Tourettes group in the Langlee Community Centre, where he works.

He said: "I am always looking to spread awareness of Tourette's, bringing families together to share our experiences and coping mechanisms.

"The more people are aware of the condition, the easier it is for sufferers to cope."

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