University of Bristol: Student awarded MBE for epic Olympic challenge

University of Bristol medicine student Charlotte Nichols and window cleaner Stuart Bates raised more than £150,000 for the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MND Association) with their epic challenge.

The charity helped Stuart’s brother Spenny Bates, who died from the disease in 2011 aged 49.

Charlotte and Stuart named their epic challenge the ‘Spennylympics’ and set out to raise £10,000.

They had to rock climb, horse ride, pole vault and sail. They completed a triathlon, a 50km speed walk, a 10km swim and a 240km road cycle.

As they ticked off sports over the 17 days of Tokyo 2020 (held in 2021) their challenge went viral. With a groundswell of support in the UK and TV appearances in 50 countries, they received more than 6,000 donations to their Just Giving page.

It was far from plain sailing though: Stuart took a tumble from a horse and Charlotte had to be rescued from a lake; both had low moments during the often rain-splattered endurance events.

But on the final day of the games the pair finished their challenge with a marathon in front of cheering fans in Stuart and Spenny’s hometown of Weymouth.

Now their efforts have earned them MBEs in The Queen’s Jubilee Birthday Honours List 2022.

Charlotte said: “It feels really special to receive an MBE, but if I’m honest, my first reaction was complete shock!

“When I saw the letter was from the cabinet office I thought there was more chance of being asked to be a spy than of getting an Honour! I was sure it was going to be a tax bill.

“We knew our antics last summer got quite a lot of attention but we didn’t expect this. Mostly it’s amazing to have recognition for the charity, which does an incredible job.

“I’m just excited to be able to tell people. Keeping it a secret has been torture!”

Stuart said: “I am so incredibly proud of what we did and why we did it. It means an awful lot to my parents who lost a son very young,

“They had to watch Spenny go through something so horrific, which robbed him of all the things that make life enjoyable.

“For me, these MBEs are above and beyond all else for Spenny, they’re in recognition of all he did and his incredible family.

“I have only been able to tell my mum and she is thrilled to bits. She’s bursting with pride and finding it harder not to tell people than I am!

“The Spennylympics were a whirlwind. We were on TV in over 50 countries, we were in magazines, newspapers, on the radio, we did about 300 interviews. It just wasn’t normal life. To live all that, with the physical drain of what we’d been doing, and then return to normal life, we were a bit lost after it all ended to be honest.

“But we look back now with an immense amount of pride at what we achieved and how much money we raised.

“We are looking forward to a huge party this weekend!”

The pair were helped in their challenge by dozens of experts and coaches who offered expertise and equipment.

Tansy Jessop, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education at the University of Bristol, said: “Charlotte and Stuart took on a challenge that would have made most Olympic athletes think twice.

“As the games unfolded and they refused to be beaten by bad weather or grueling distances, they showed time and time again their tenacity and sheer dedication.

“Their achievements – both the challenge they completed and the money it raised – are truly monumental.

“A huge congratulations to both Charlotte and Stuart, for their brilliant efforts to support those with motor neurone disease, in memory of Spenny.”

Denise Davies, Head of Community Fundraising at the MND Association said: “After working in fundraising for 30 years, it isn’t often I am faced with a completely unique fundraising challenge – but Charlotte and Stuart certainly managed to surprise me with the Spennylympics!

“I am delighted to hear the news that Charlotte and Stuart have been recognised with very well-deserved MBEs for services to the Motor Neurone Disease Association and so from all of us, thank you so much for your tremendous hard work and the vital awareness you are continuing to raise of MND.”