How football is helping Sunderland fan, 45, battle Parkinson's Disease

Football is helping a Sunderland fan battle Parkinson’s Disease – and he wants to encourage others with the condition to take part.
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Ritchie Dunning had his world turned upside down aged when he was diagnosed with the progressive brain disease at the age of 37.

His symptoms began a couple of years before his shock diagnosis. His condition worsened at the start of 2023, which has impacted on his day-to-day life.

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However, with the help of Sunderland AFC’s official charity, the Foundation of Light, the now-45-year-old is keeping active by taking part in Parkinson’s Walking Football.

Ritchie Dunning playing walking football at Beacon of Light.Ritchie Dunning playing walking football at Beacon of Light.
Ritchie Dunning playing walking football at Beacon of Light.

Richie visits the Beacon of Light each Saturday, where he takes part in sport and social activities.

Despite his situation he has a positive attitude and says that medication has been a big help. So too has walking football.

Richie said: “I saw an advert for Parkinson’s Walking Football so I wanted to come and support the event and get involved because I actually play walking football for a Yorkshire-based team.

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"I’m also a member of the first ever England Parkinson’s Walking Football Team.

“After the sessions finish we go up the classroom and have a general chit-chat, talk about how the session went and how we’re feeling generally.

“It’s just a nice social side to things and you start connecting more with people. It’s nice being around like-minded people and it doesn’t matter what your symptoms are, you’re just accepted as you are and no-one is looking at you.”

“These sessions are amazing. For a start, it’s exercise and exercise is key for people with Parkinson’s.

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“Making new friends is big in the Parkinson’s community and hopefully these sessions will benefit everyone and hopefully we can start to get more numbers coming along.”

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There are around 10 million Parkinson’s sufferers worldwide. Most are over 60, but one in 10 are under 50.

The Foundation of Light used World Parkinson’s Day this week to promote its walking football sessions.

Jack Ramsey, health and wellbeing activator, said: “The biggest differences I see with Ritchie since he first started is his confidence and enthusiasm to make a difference, not only to his own life but also others.”

For more information contact [email protected] or visit the website. Sessions are every Saturday, 10am to 12pm, and open to everyone aged over 16.