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    You are here : Home » Get Involved » Events » Higgy's Heroes

    Higgy's Heroes

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    Higgys Heroes Logo

    Higgy's Heroes are aptly named after MSRC patron, Alastair "Higgy" Hignell.
    In 2008, a group of Alastair's contemporaries from his Cambridge University days wanted to run the London Marathon to raise funds for Alastair's charity and Higgy's Heroes were born........
    Following on from the spring London Marathon, a new group of Higgy's Heroes decided on a new running challenge and led from the front by Higgy's wife, Jeannie, took part in the Stroud Half Marathon. Jeannie was joined by sons, Adam and Dan along with many of Higgy's family including his brother and sister-in-law, nieces and nephews and many friends.
    And the team has just continued to grow - now, anyone accepting any challenge can join the Higgy's heroes team and raise funds for MSRC.

    Visit the Higgy's Heroes Website -

    Thank You!

    Jo, Jenny and Matt from Courtyard

    Thank you to Jo, Matt and Jenny from Courtyard Clinic Physiotherapy & Chiropractic Clinic who volunteered for us at the Stroud Half Marathon this year!

    Please visit their homepage

    Higgy - the manAlastair Hignell

    Alastair Hignell CBE, Patron of MSRC, was a stellar sportsman in his own right. The first Cambridge student to captain the university at both cricket and rugby union, he played professional cricket for Gloucestershire from 1974 to 1983, passing 1,000 runs for the season three times and hitting 11 first-class centuries.

    He was a 19-year-old student when he made his England rugby union debut against Australia in Brisbane in 1975 - the “Battle of Ballymore” - and went on to win 14 caps as a full-back. He also played for Bristol for many years.

    When he retired from professional cricket and rugby, Alastair plunged into a new career - teaching at both Bristol Cathedral School and Sherborne School until in 1986, after joining the BBC, he gave his first live radio broadcast on the France v Ireland Five Nations game at the Parc des Princes in Paris.

    Alastair retired from the BBC in May 2008 and was named the 2008 recipient of BBC Sports Personality’s Helen Rollason award later the same year.

    He was awarded a CBE in June 2009.

    Current Higgy's Heroes  Events Flying Higgy Logo - Small

    If you would like to support, or take part in a current Higgy's Heroes event you would be more than welcome!

    You can find out what events are currently ongoing by clicking the links below:

    Past Higgy's Heroes  EventsHiggy's Heroes Logo Standing - Small

    Catch up with what the Heroes have achieved in the past by clicking below:

    You can now donate via text message to Higgy’s Heroes!

    Simply text HIGG50 and the amount you want to donate (max £10) to 70070 and your donation will go straight to

    All text messages are FREE on all networks and 100% of your donation will come to MSRC!

    Marathon Magic

    Alastair HignellIf you had been at the London  Marathon last Sunday you would have seen  humanity at its best. The extraordinary speed, endurance and lung-bursting excellence shown by the elite athletes showed just what the human body was capable of. The extraordinary dedication, determination and selfless disregard for pain shown by less well-equipped charity runners showed  just how powerful the human mind can be. And the extraordinary exuberance, good-will and generosity of the crowds who lined the route showed just how compassionate the human spirit can be. It was an absolute delight, as one excited onlooker observed, to be present at the greatest street-party on earth.
    And those of us who couldn’t get out onto the course still had a whale of a time. The Economist building  on St. James, which doubles up on  marathon day as the headquarters of the MSRC,  was once again a hive of cheerful, excited activity. The only face not smiling belonged to Economist founder James Wilson – hardly surprising seeing that he was not only a Scot but a statue – and even  the dourness of his expression was alleviated by the placement in his outstretched hand of one of the charity’s by now infamous rapper-clappers.

    And if the old boy hadn’t been  entirely hewn from stone I’m absolutely convinced that he would have joined in the celebrations as our heroes came trooping through the doors in varying degrees of  exhaustion, exhilaration and ecstasy. The joy  and relief of  the runners – and their supporters - was almost palpable. The realization that they had achieved something very special may have taken longer to dawn on some than on others but the knowledge that they have set themselves the most demanding of physical tests – and passed it – will remain with them for ever.

    The MSRC was privileged to be part of  such a special day and proud to have played its part. It was a testament to see just what the charity means to so many people. There was a record number of volunteers to greet the runners at the finishing-line and escort them to the Economist building. There were more physios than ever, as a team from Cumbria joined the regulars from Cornwall to massage tired limbs and revive flagging spirits.(As someone nearly said, why go round the corner when you can go to the ends of the earth?) And , once again MSRC chief exec Helen and marathon supremo Abi ran things with precision and efficiency, as well as humour and warmth.

    And the sun shone as well. A great day to be alive. A great day to be part of the human race.

    Alastair Hignell

    Finding My Voice

    Alastair Hignell“Let’s face it, Alastair, your voice is never going to be your fortune. “The university lecturer wasn’t to know that I had a 23-year broadcasting career ahead of me, although, as most of that time was spent at the BBC, I suppose he was technically correct.

    He had just assessed a lesson I had delivered,  as part of my teaching-practice at a school in Cambridge,  and come to the conclusion that, whatever else it was, my voice was not a thing of beauty.

    That a music-teacher reached the same conclusion half a dozen years earlier was less surprising, and far more damaging.  I was part of a chorus,  made up of all the junior boys in the House, which had been entered  into the school’s annual music competition. As highly-competitive teenagers, we were only too conscious that any marks we could gain in the singing would count towards the Music Trophy awarded to the best House overall, and we were ruthless in pursuit of the prize. So when the teacher supervising one of our practices indicated that the overall sound would be much improved if I mimed rather than sang,  the weight of public opinion forced me to keep silent then,  and kept  ashamed of my singing voice ever since.

    It’s not helped by the fact that my wife Jeannie not only has a great singing voice- a lovely clear soprano - but she comes from a family of singers - mum, dad and all three sisters sang in church choirs and choral groups. She has recognized in herself a need to sing and after joining People of Note in Bristol and Stroudsong when we moved to the Cotswolds, has since enrolled in the local chapter of the national phenomenon that is Rock Choir.  Along with 8,000 others she is rehearsing for a May appearance at the Wembley Arena, and wondering whether she will appear in any of the cutaways when a three-part documentary on Rock Choir airs this summer.

    If it has the impact of “Young At Heart”, a programme about a bunch of old-timers who found so much joy and positive energy - not to mention critical acclaim - when they started rehearsing,  performing and recording their versions of popular rock songs,  the producers will be more than happy.

    I challenge any one not to be moved by “Young At Heart”, which remains the one documentary I know I could never tire of watching. If they had a Desert  Island Discs category for this sort of thing, I would have no hesitation in taking it with me.

    But,  even before watching the video I was a firm believer in the health-giving and spiritually-enhancing properties of singing. One of my most treasured memories is of an impromptu open-air “concert” in a Cape Town suburb. With the sun setting on the fabled Table Mountain in the background,  and casting lengthening shadows on the reed-garlanded lake in front of us,  the crystal- clear soprano belonging to one of the waitress projected the hauntingly beautiful “Danny Boy”  into the stillness, and everything else faded into insignificance.

    At other times in my journalistic life, I had been serenaded by people’s choirs in New Zealand,  South Africa and the Ivory Coast. As a rugby player,  I had been witnessed the extraordinary passion and power of a Welsh crowd in Cardiff when England come to play. In more informal settings, I had been entertained - and shamed - by the extraordinary vocal repertoire of the Basques and Catalans in France,  the Maori in New Zealand, the Xhosa in South Africa, even the Cornish in England. Why weren’t more Englishmen - why wasn’t I - more like them?

    Fortified by the claims of music educationists who maintain that absolutely anyone can be taught to sing in passable harmony,  I’m desperate to learn. I’ve made it another of my spring resolutions to take singing lessons. I’m not going to be put off either by the memories of humiliation at schoolboy or by unfavourable comparisons with the woman at my side.  I’m not going to be put off by the need to completely re-train my breathing. As a commentator, I got so used to not knowing when the next break in play would allow me to take a deep breath that I got used to breathing shallowly,  ready to take a swift gasp of air at any time,  but also able to keep talking in an excited fashion for minutes at a stretch.The deep measured breathing,  the expelling of air through the chest,  the opening of the lungs to produce a sound of depth, colour and musicality - all these come naturally to most singers. To me, they don’t. I’m hoping they can be learnt.

    But I need to find a teacher. I had to part company with the last person who took on the job  for three reasons. For a start,  he was such a natural himself, that he genuinely couldn’t understand how I could have any difficulties either with the mechanics of singing or the production of a note. On top of that he was very fond of sixteenth century church-music and insistent that,if  wanted to sing properly,  I needed to know my way round a sheet of music. I suppose the final straw came when,  after I’d failed for the umpteenth time to reproduce the note he’d just sang at me, he asked me if MS was affecting my hearing.

    I don’t know whether it does, or did, but I did realize that if I was to unleash the singer within me, I needed a more sympathetic teacher, as well as better songs.

    But I’m still searching and, so it seems, I am not alone. One teacher recommended to me is fully booked for the foreseeable future. Another needs me to go to her,  but lives too far away for me to contemplate the journey on my buggy. A third only holds classes on a Tuesday morning, which is my day for treatment at the MS Centre in Gloucester.
    The search goes on. 

    Wish me luck.


    Spring Intentions

    Alastair HignellForget all about New Year resolutions. If you’re like me, you’ve already done so. Or, if you haven’t, all that remains of all those good intentions is a sense of guilt at your failure to keep them and a sense of embarrassment that you caved in so quickly. Again.

    But it makes far more sense to make new plans and embark on  new courses of action when spring is in the air. In the depths of winter it’s easy to be reactive; we’re motivated more by negative feelings - horror at the weight we’ve put on, disgust at the sloth we’ve succumbed to - than by positive motivations.

    But in the spring,  as the sun starts to warm our bones and the appearance of flowers at the roadside and buds on the trees spark thoughts of renewal, regeneration and hope, there’s a much greater chance not only of making the right lifestyle adjustments for the right reasons but of making the changes last. That’s what I tell myself anyway.
    From now on,  I’m going to take a much more central role in my own well-being. During the winter I have got into the habit of treating my twice-a-week physiotherapy appointments  as  sessions in which things were done to me rather than by me. It’s true that, aspart of my weekly visit to the MS Therapy Centre at Quedgeley, near Gloucester, I had worked on my walking and built up a head of steam on the centre’s Thera-trainer, but I tended to drift off to sleep when installed in the oxygen chamber and I welcomed the aromatherapy massage as an indulgence as well as a relaxation. I also opted for a massage whenever I went to Physability in Stroud, justifying it to myself that until I could get my muscles unknotted and my joints working smoothly I couldn’t even contemplate anything even a little bit more energetic.

    But now I intend to make my arms and legs work a bit more. At Physability I’m going to have exercises rather than massage. I want to restore some strength as well as some functionality to a right arm that I had allowed to fall into dis-use. At the Treatment centre, I’m going to inhale the oxygen properly, and I’m going to increase the distance I walk and the pace at which I walk it.

    For this I’ve enlisted the help of a Walk-aide, a leg-cuff based on the old FES developed at Odstock Hospital in Salisbury. But whereas, in trialling one of the  earlier versions,  I had been put off by the trailing wires, unreliable electrodes and huge amount of guess work needed to position them, I have now been thoroughly won over by recent improvements in technology. I  have just taken possession of a comfortable cuff which snaps and velcroes into exactly the right place around my calf, while  a clever wireless tilt mechanism in the discreetly sized control-box that ensures that whenever I walk the correct amount of electric current ensures that footdrop-prone right foot lifts sufficiently clear of the ground. The device also has an exercise setting so that even when resting in front of the television I can strengthen the muscles around the ankles still further.

    So my spring resolution is to make a greater personal contribution to my own well-being. I can’t guarantee I’ll keep it,  but I’m going to give it a damned good try.  Wish me luck.

    Patron's Patter

    Higgy FlyingRightly or wrongly, no-one has ever taken me for a football fan. It used to matter hugely. I would tell school-mates with some pride that  my grandfather had  played a few games for Sunderland and  become a director at Torquay United but the relative unfashionableness of both clubs did nothing for my street-cred. Nor did my teen-age protestations of loyalty to Manchester United  - ignited by European Cup triumph over Benfica and fuelled by the availability of relatively cheap memorabilia that was both highly-prized and easily swapped. It didn’t help that a peripatetic upbringing in an R. A. F.  family rarely put me within reach of top-class football - when we weren’t living overseas, the nearest League club was either Lincoln City or Cambridge United - and that  the school I attended almost completely ignored the Association code. A “career”  in rugby  distanced me still further from soccer and even though I spent seven year’s as an all-round sports reporter in local television, the rugby clubs of the West country - Bath,  Bristol and Gloucester - commanded my attention much more effectively than  the three rather less glamorous league football teams Bristol City, Bristol Rovers and Swindon.

    All three had stadiums that had seen better days. Most of the football grounds I subsequently visited as a rugby commentator for the BBC - belonging to the likes of Wycombe Wanderers, Stockport County and Rotherham - were also scruffy, shabby and uncomfortable. At least these clubs were in the Football League. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that, when invited to a dinner-dance at my local non-league club,  I was hardly bubbling over with excitement.

    Rightly or wrongly, I’ve never been into running. As a hyperactive child I was never averse to using it as a means of getting more quickly from A to B,  but , as an activity in its own right, it never made much sense to me unless I had a bat or a ball in my hands. Running was essential to the sport I played,  and I could see that being able to run well was essential to my enjoyment  of it,  but I was always a little wary of contemporaries who professed to like running for its own sake. I admit that when I retired from organized sport my opinion did change, but only slightly.  I ran religiously round the Downs in Bristol in an attempt to preserve some fitness,  but I never professed to enjoy the experience.

    When the surgeon who replaced my hip suggested that I should give up running, I had no inclination to argue with him.  A life without running seemed eminently bearable.

    Higgy’s Heroes changed all that - first when some friends from University coined the name for their attempt on the London Marathon in 2008, then when my wife Jeannie was press-ganged into joining some local Higgy’s Heroes at the Stroud  Half-Marathon the same year. She loved running so much that she became a founder-member of the Cotswold All-runners.  I was so impressed by her enthusiasm that, even though I now can’t walk to the end of our road, I agreed to be President of the new club. Even so, I was hardly bubbling over with excitement at the prospect of spending an entire evening in the company of a hundred or so running geeks.

    Rightly or wrongly, I’ve never enjoyed much of a reputation as a dancer. Dance-lessons at an all-boys prep-school  had no chance either of being taken seriously or of inspiring much co-ordination.  Teenage shyness was inevitably compounded by the belief-system of the sports teams to which I belonged. When dancing we tightened our shoulders instead of relaxing and  believed it much more important to impose ourselves on the music than abandon ourselves to it. Even before MS,  I danced like a stiff-legged, muscle-bound boxer. After MS, I knew for certain that the invitation to appear on Strictly Come Dancing would  never  arrive  - and I was glad. So I was hardly bubbling over at the prospect of a Dinner Dance organized by the Cotswold All-runners in one of the stands at Forest Green Rovers Football Club.

    And I couldn’t have been more wrong. The facilities at Forest Green Rovers’ stadium in Nailsworth would put many of their so-called betters to shame,  their welcome was heartfelt and genuine,  and the food was outstanding. The company was scintillating and the music,  provided by a local ten-piece jazz band was jaw-droppingly,  foot-stompingly sensational.  So much so that even I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a turn on the dance-floor. While Jeannie and all the other loose-limbed and highly co-ordinated runners strutted their amazing stuff, I bobbed and weaved and bounced and jigged around my walking -stick. Pretty, it wasn’t. Joyful it definitely was. Perhaps Bruce,  Bruno, Len and co. will be interested after all...



    Alastair HignellBecause it’s there. George Mallory’s celebrated response to the question “why climb Everest?”  could equally apply to joining Facebook.

    I had watched  the film  ‘Social Networking ‘ with my wife Jeannie and was none the wiser.  Sure, the figures were mind-boggling,  the sums earned by its creators obscene,  but that still didn’t answer the question “why join Facebook?”

    But, 600 miilion people can’t be wrong. I was obviously  missing something.  The only thing to do was to take the plunge and find out for myself.  And here’s the scary thing.

    Within seconds of my pressing the  enter key, I received an excited response  from someone I knew in France. She immediately  sent a list of  mutual acquaintances  and suggested I become their “friends”. It seemed rude not to. But that still didn’t answer the question “why?”. If I wanted to communicate with my friends, I had their email addresses, or their telephone numbers. Why did I need to use Facebook? Was I still missing something? No, said one of those new " friends ". It’s just messing about,  sharing thoughts, having a laugh. Was it about “getting down with the kids?” Initially, said another “friend “, but then it became a way of interacting with loads of friends and acquaintances - and keeping an eye on the offspring.

    My sons are adults now, and I can’t imagine for one second they’d welcome their dad either keeping an eye on them or, horror of horrors, entering into any of their on-line “conversations”.Still, if there was a greater  chance of grabbing their attention by going through Facebook, there might be some point, and anyway they might know  the answer. “ It’s for idly gossiping while you’re supposed to be doing other things”  said one of them, “It's the 'patience' of the noughties.".

    Hardly a ringing endorsement,  yet the advice was unchanging and universal. “You ought to be on Facebook “. If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times. “Everybody’s on Facebook.” I suppose that much is true. Not just people,  but every organization has got a Facebook page. The MSRC’s got one,  the BBC’s got several,  even the Lib Dems have got one. And, much to my surprise, so did Higgy’s Heroes. Then.

    Now, after a certain amount of key-pressing, photo-uploading and word-pasting - and no small amount of ‘computer -rage’ on my part,  Higgy’s Heroes has two Facebook pages. The first, I was surprised to discover, relates to fund-raising efforts to combat ALS in America.

    In the nicest possible way., I want you to ignore that. And I want you to “like”, if that’s the right term,  Higgy’s Heroes (UK). If it’s true what they say,  the more visits the better. The more visits,  the greater the chance of success - and the greater the chance of a satisfactory answer to the question we started with. Why join Facebook?

    Higgy's Heroes UK Facebook Page -

    Alastair Hignell

    London calling

    Alastair HignellWest country  commuters know only too well that Reading comes before London. So do West country runners. Just as the Berkshire county town was a vital staging-post in Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s grand design for the Great Western Railway,  so this weekend’s Reading Half Marathon is a crucial step along the way to next month’s Virgin London Marathon.

    For most of them it is the last organized run before they lace up their  trainers to pound the streets of the capital on April 17th.  After Reading,  it’s just a  question of getting in one long run - the experts suggest about twenty miles - and then tapering down to get bodies and, just as importantly,  minds into the best  possible state of preparedness for the big day.

    And it also means the final push for fund-raising, as I discovered when I joined two Higgy’s Heroes at the Stroud Farmers’ Market on Saturday.  Bea Brandish and Steve Townsend have a combined age of 112 and an appetite for life that would shame youngsters half their age,  and an intensity of purpose that  would shame us all.

    Bea actually had a place  in last year’s London Marathon but had to give it up because of injury. She knows this could be her last chance to achieve her ambition of  running the show-piece event with her son Simon.

    For Steve,  a sales manager from Stroud, the event  will be a great opportunity to celebrate all that he has achieved since he took up running. Although the weight didn’t come off immediately, Steve has shed a stone in the  last month or so.  More  importantly he has just bought a pair of 32”-waist trousers - an amazing  four sizes down from the pair he was wearing before he took up running. 

    Bea and Steve have chosen  to run the London Marathon  as Higgy’s Heroes for the MSRC. I am deeply honoured for myself - and thrilled for the charity.  They deserved  the sun to shine on their efforts on Saturday - and it did.  Folk at the Farmers’ Market were interested,  kind and generous.

    These two amazing  people are now hoping that others will be every bit as supportive. Bea’s employers at  Tesco have already  agreed  to match her fund-raising efforts.  Steve is hoping for more hits on his Just Giving Page.

    Both will be taking on the biggest challenge of their lives in the MSRC green.  Both will have their names on their running-vests as well. So if you spot them on April 17th,  on television or on the streets of London, please give a special cheer to two special people. And, of  course,  one very special charity.

    Alastair Hignell

    © Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre (MSRC)

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