North Uist woman turns ordeal into drive for good

Heather got on her bike for charity.
Heather got on her bike for charity.

Heather Wheeler (36), from North Uist, has completed a mammoth charity challenge by running and cycling 1,721 miles, the equivalent length from North Uist to Lands’ End and back to help raise awareness and funds for the charity MND Scotland.

Heather, who originally hails from Kinlochleven, works as a physiotherapist in a team at a local hospital and GP surgery.

She is married to husband Gerry Wheeler (40) and is mother to Maisie (7) and Guthrie (4).

She decided to take on the year-long challenge after suffering an epileptic seizure at the beginning of the year, which resulted in Heather being stripped of her driving license for at least a year.

“I worried about how I would cope on my remote island of North Uist without a car when I had become so reliant on having one for work, and for family.

“Instead of feeling down about it I wanted something positive to come out of the experience... so I have set myself a personal challenge to run and cycle the equivalent distance from North Uist to Lands’ End and back again.”

Heather decided to fundraise for MND Scotland after her brother-in-law lost his father to Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in 2011.

So far she has raised an incredible £1,000, which she plans to share with Young Epilepsy and the 1 Million Miles for Ellie campaign.

MND is a rapidly progressing terminal illness, which stops signals from the brain reaching the muscles. This may cause someone to lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, drink or breathe unaided.

Speaking about her incredible challenge, Heather said: “I had given myself up to a year to do it, and I hoped to raise some money for charity along the way.

“In North Uist we have experienced a higher-than-average incidence of MND and both from a personal perspective, and through my work, I have seen the devastating effect MND has on the individuals involved and their families.

“My Brother-in-law Colin Miller lost his father to MND several years ago and he had already lost two other members of his family to the disease.

“It was a heart-breaking time for them all and for any family going through such an experience. For these reasons I wanted to support MND Scotland through fundraising and to raise awareness of this condition.”

In addition to MND Scotland, Heather is also supporting the charity Young Epilepsy following her seizure.

“I don’t remember much about the seizure itself but I was lucky that my husband and sister were with me at the time.

“I was worried about the effect on my children. It was hard for them to understand what was happening and it must have been a very frightening experience for them.

“It was very upsetting when I realised that I would have to give up driving. Initially I just couldn’t see a way we were going to manage our normal day-to-day activities without it; my work, nursery and school runs.

“Once I worked out a plan of cycling and running my way through the year I began to feel better and the focus of the challenge has been great.”

Losing her driving license hasn’t stopped Heather taking her kids out for a spin. She has started using a tag along trailer, attached to her bike, in order to pull them around the island.

“My biggest challenge was keeping going on windy days which we get a lot in the Outer Hebrides. I loved the freedom of cycling, the exercise and the fresh air.

“It was difficult initially especially starting off my challenge in winter, but when you are running and cycling as a way to commute to work or take your kids to nursery and school, you just have to get on with it.

“North Uist is a stunning part of the world, and on my bike I really appreciated cycling through the amazing island landscape.

“The community has been very supportive and it has been great having friendly waves from passing cars as I have been cycling to work.

“Now nearly a year down the line I feel grateful to have had this opportunity, and I love my new lifestyle. I am looking forward to hopefully returning to driving in the near future, however I will not be giving up the cycling and running either.”

Iain McWhirter, MND Scotland’s Head of Fundraising and Volunteering, said: “On behalf of MND Scotland I want to congratulate Heather on achieving such an incredible goal and helping support people affected by MND in Scotland.

“Despite going through a frightening ordeal with her seizure, Heather has persevered and used her situation to help others. The funds that Heather has raised for MND Scotland with this challenge will be used to provide vital services to people affected by MND and will help us fund research into a cure.”

Vicky Kennedy, Director of Fundraising and External Relations at Young Epilepsy said: “An epilepsy diagnosis can have a devastating impact on families and that’s why our work to support the 112,000 children and young people living with epilepsy across the UK is vital and will help us better understand this complex condition.

“Sadly there is still a stigma surrounding epilepsy and having incredible supporters like Heather will not only raise much needed funds but will also raise awareness of epilepsy.”