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Belfast pensioner Willie goes the extra mile to raise awareness of Parkinson's

Parkinson's sufferer (82) walked every day for month


Willie at Barnett's Demesne

Willie at Barnett's Demesne

Willie at Barnett's Demesne

A Belfast pensioner who is partially disabled has pushed himself to the limit to walk a mile every day for 30 days to raise awareness of Parkinson's disease.

Retired schoolteacher Willie Carney (82) struggles to get around and also has severely damaged eyesight after being diagnosed with Parkinson's seven years ago.

Despite these setbacks, Willie - who climbed Kilimanjaro for charity when he was 70 years old - hasn't slowed down.

In September he completed a fundraising challenge for Parkinson's UK, walking a mile a day for the entire month.

Thinking about three close relatives who have had serious health battles inspired Willie to push himself to the limit.

He says: "After lockdown, I didn't feel confident going out on my own as I hadn't been out for five months. I had never before managed to go walking two days in a row, so I was worried about doing 30.

"But then I started thinking about my relatives who are much worse off than I am. My niece who lives in Canada suffered brain damage when she slipped on ice while out walking and she refuses to give up. I have another niece with cerebral palsy who also keeps going and a relative who battled breast cancer.

"I just thought they're not giving up their struggle, how could I give up mine, before I'd even begun?"

Willie grew up in Carrickmore in Tyrone and moved to Belfast in 1957. His wife Bernie is now deceased and he has one son Liam (51) who lives in Geneva.

He taught for many years in Strabane and Dungannon and then in St Peter's Secondary School in Belfast before moving into teacher training.

After retiring from teaching he became busier than ever travelling the world with the charity Unicef training judges in human rights laws for children as part of a United Nations Development Programme.

He was still working at 75 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and an acute heart problem which led to major open heart surgery.

Parkinson's is a non curable progressive nervous system disorder which affects 3,900 people in Northern Ireland.


Willie at Victoria Park in east Belfast

Willie at Victoria Park in east Belfast

Willie at Victoria Park in east Belfast

It hasn't stopped Willie walking to raise funds and to date he has contributed around £10,000 to helping others who have been more severely impacted by the disease.

His latest challenge proved one of his biggest yet and his determination was tested early on when on just day five the muscles in his feet seized up. He explains: "I was walking along the Lagan Towpath with my sister Una when I had what is known by people with Parkinson's as 'a freezing episode'.

"My muscles stopped working and it was like my feet were stuck to the ground and wouldn't move.

"I really thought I was going to have to call the emergency services but my sister was able to go and get the car and come and pick me up."

Undeterred he was back on the towpath the following day and every day for 25 days after that, using a rollator walking aid for the first time to keep himself steady and ensure he finished his challenge.

Even though Parkinson's has robbed him of so much quality of life, Willie doesn't let it get him down.

He adds: "It was quite tough being diagnosed with Parkinson's and my life did change very quickly.

"There is no point sitting at home thinking about all the things I can't do."

Willie's can-do spirit ties in with a campaign Parkinson's UK is launching on Tuesday, called Time to Can.

Parkinson's is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world.

With more than 40 potential symptoms, it can devastate lives and means people can't do everyday things like walk, talk, eat or sleep.

The Time to Can campaign will run throughout November with a TV advert aimed at empowerment of people with Parkinson's, and those who support them.

To support the campaign go to

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