Sunderland and Middlesbrough fans raise vital funds with 40-mile walk to support 34-year-old stroke survivor's rehab
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Sunderland AFC and Middlesbrough fans put rivalries to one side on Sunday to join together to walk from the Stadium of Light to the Riverside Stadium to raise money for 34-year-old Chris Wood, who has lost most of the use of the right side of his body after suffering a stroke.
Previously a fit, healthy and a regular gym goer, in August last year (2023) Chris suffered a double brain haemorrhage causing a stroke which affected the right side of his body.
After spending three months in hospital, he is now home but can only walk "very short distances" in his house with a stick and currently needs to use a wheelchair.
The fundraising walk was organised by friend Chris Beaney, who is a Black Cats season ticket holder.
He said: "Chris was really fit and you just don't expect someone of 34 to have a stroke. He didn't have any pre-existing condition or family history and so this is just totally unexpected.
"He has a four-year-old son called Max and this has had such a massive impact on his family and friends. It has knocked everyone."
With Chris Wood a season ticket holder at Middlesbrough, Sunday's Tees Wear derby was seen as the perfect opportunity to raise money to help him and his family.
The walkers set off from the Stadium of Light at 7pm on the evening before the game and walked through the night to reach the Riverside Stadium at 10.45am the next morning ready for the midday kick off..
In total, 41 people took part in the walk including fans from both Sunderland and Middlesbrough as well as Chris's wife Jenny and other family members.
Sunderland opened up the stadium for the walkers to get photographs and the team were set on their way by Black Cats legend Gary Bennett and BBC Radio Newcastle commentator Nick Barnes.
Chris said: "Myself and Chris both travel to follow England games and we always have the Sunderland and Middlesbrough badges on our England flag and so the derby game seemed like the ideal opportunity for supporters from both clubs to come together to support Chris.
"Chris lives in Billingham and so he joined us in his wheelchair for the last seven miles of the walk. When we arrived in Middlesbrough a lot of the Sunderland fans were at the train station and they started to applaud us, as did the Boro fans on the other side of the road.
"It was a really special moment."
Chris set-up a JustGiving page ahead of the walk and has so far raised an impressive £22,250.
He said: "Chris needs constant rehab and physio which simply isn't available on the NHS. Specialists have said the first 12 months are crucial and we want to give Chris the chance to get private physio four or five times a week so he can get back to as close a normal life as possible."
The JustGiving page is still open for donations.
Chris added: "For a lad of his age who was as fit as a fiddle to have a stroke was just so unexpected. People have been so generous but the more money we can raise the more we can help Chris with his rehab.
"I would ask anyone who can to please donate as it's important for Chris and his family to get back to as close as normal as possible."