When football legend Stan Bowles was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, his long-time friend and former QPR team mate Don Shanks knew he had to do something.
Since Stan’s diagnosis, Don has been raising awareness of dementia. Earlier this year he decided to take on the challenge of the New York Marathon.
Don wanted to raise money to help Stan and fund important research. At 66 he wasn’t sure he’d be able to make it. But with Stan always in the back of his mind he pushed through.
This is his story - a tale of friendship and determination.
Best friends on and off the pitch
Stan and I played together at Queens Parks Rangers. We were with each other most days. He was my best mate and we were pretty much inseparable.
We used to room together and sit next to each other when we travelled to away games. We would spend our evenings together going to greyhound racing or the pub. We were together most of the time.
Stan was a real easy-going guy. He was the Lionel Messi of his time, but he wasn’t a prima donna. He would take the time to talk to fans and get to know people.
Even when we went our separate ways and moved on to other clubs we remained best mates.
Hard times reveal true friends
When Stan first received his Alzheimer’s diagnosis I was very concerned.
I knew nothing about Alzheimer’s or dementia. I had heard it mentioned before but had never experienced it. I really didn’t know what was coming next.
In the early days there was not much of a difference in Stan. We would still have a pint and a laugh together. But then I started to notice that at times he would become a bit vacant. Then slowly his unmistakeable wit started to fade.
To witness his deterioration has been heart-breaking for me. I can’t even begin to imagine what it has been like for Stan’s family.
After I visit Stan I get to go home, but his family does not. I have witnessed what a huge impact dementia has on a family.
As friends we need to support people who are caring for their loved ones and provide respite for them. This is hugely important.
We should encourage attendance at group sessions. There are people out there who want to help, so embrace that help.
Making a difference and raising awareness
After seeing what Stan’s family have been through I knew I had to do something.
Last year we held an awareness match at Queens Park Rangers football stadium. Stan attended and thousands of fans showed their support. We raised a lot of money.
I wanted to do something personally. To show my support for Stan and Alzheimer’s Society.
I signed up for the New York Marathon. It was the simple desire to try to make a difference. I wanted to raise money but also raise awareness.
My run generated a lot of attention. I’ve been on TV, radio and in newspapers highlighting the great work of Alzheimer’s Society. I have connected with fans across the world through social media.
The potential to be able to do that is what convinced me that I should run. I knew I could help raise awareness.
I would hate to see any person or family going through what Stan and his family have gone through.
Challenge of a lifetime
To prepare for the day I followed a special training programme. Like anything else in life, I had my good and bad days. But the training experience from my playing days helped me through.
The event was the greatest event that anyone can take part in. The run was amazing. The people and atmosphere were incredible.
My goal was to finish in less than 4.5 hours. I made it in 4 hours, 11 minutes and 33 seconds. It was a wonderful experience in honour of my friend Stan.
Challenges and events
Challenge yourself by taking on one of our many fundraising events and raise money to help fight dementia