The family and friends of late Brecon firefighter Andrew ‘Gonzo’ Williams have raised a whopping £23,847 at a 24h rugby match on top Pen y Fan in his memory.
The touch rugby game kicked off at 6am on Friday, June 17 and ended the following day, on what would have been Andrew’s 53rd birthday.
Andrew passed away from COVID-19 in August 2021 after a four-year battle with the incurable blood cancer myeloma.
The team initially raised £11,500, but a friend of Andrew’s offered to match the sum bumping the total up to £23, 847.
All funds raised will be split between four charities close to Andrew’s heart: blood cancer charity Myeloma UK, the Fire Fighters Charity, Wales Air Ambulance Charity and Rookwood Spur.
Andrew’s fiancée Lisa Jenkins, a nurse from Brecon, said: “It was epic. I have never seen so many tired people come off the mountain, with a Pen y Fan tan! Their faces coming off the mountain were covered in red dust.
“For those who stayed up at the top for 24 hours along with the hour and a half assent and descent, I cannot thank them enough for the sheer grit and determination they showed to get the job done. They were truly awesome. I’m sure we will talk about this for years to come.
“Andrew would be so proud and deeply humbled by it all – particularly of his two sons Ryan, 19, who stayed the full 24 hours and Ioan, six, who climbed Pen y Fan for the first time at 3am to take part in Daddy’s Game, till the end.
“We as a family are deeply humbled by the support we have been shown from our friends and family along with our rugby, fire brigade and NHS family to make Gonzo’s Game the success that it was. Encompassing Andrew’s ethos in life to always give back and be a part of your community and have a lot of fun along the way.
“Friends drove up and some back in one day from all over the UK, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Hull, Cardigan, Hereford, Cardiff, Bristol, Devon to name but a few, to be a part of Gonzo’s Game, to help raise funds and awareness for his charities and to celebrate their friend’s life on what would have been his 53rd birthday.
“The weather on top of Pen y Fan was changeable to say the least. The wind was strong and at one point we thought we would run out of rugby balls, but we had some good eggs taking part who retrieved all bar one ball to keep the match alive.
“By nightfall the pitch was lit by florescent beacons and glow sticks were strapped to the ball to keep it visible. Fair play to the friends who did the graveyard shift – it was not easy.
“The comradery amongst friends and family got them through the tough hours and the elements that Mother Nature was throwing at them.
“Total strangers, who did not know Andrew but were touched by his story and our crazy event, also supported us and were keen to have a go and take part in Gonzo’s Game.”
Andrew was diagnosed with the incurable blood cancer myeloma back in December 2017.
He had been suffering from agonising back pain, which both he and doctors had put down to his job as a firefighter for more than eight months before he was eventually rushed to A&E.
By the time the cancer was caught, Andrew was paralysed from the waist down. The disease had spread to his spine and he spent the following two and a half years learning to walk again.
Sadly, just as his condition started to improve, the father-of-two caught COVID-19. He died of the virus coupled with complications from myeloma, putting his plans to fundraise for the charities which had supported him on his cancer journey to a grinding halt. He was just 52 years old.
Lisa added: “His diagnosis turned our family’s world upside down, but Andrew was never one to let things get him down for long and his courageous and determined mentality served him well. He went on to have his spinal-cord surgery, entered a spinal-cord rehabilitation programme whilst receiving chemotherapy. All his hard work and determination saw him take his first steps in January 2018, which he later built on at Rookwood, then at the Breconshire War Memorial Hospital physiotherapy department.
“He was due to book an intense rehabilitation week at the Fire Fighters’ Charity rehabilitation centre, but sadly at the beginning of August 2021 he contracted COVID -19. After his long and courageous battle against myeloma, COVID-19 was one last hurdle too far to overcome.”
Myeloma patients have a weakened immune system, which puts them at much higher risk of catching COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill.
Myeloma affects 24,000 people in the UK at any one time.
Despite being the third most common type of blood cancer, myeloma is especially difficult to diagnose as symptoms, chief among them pain, easily broken bones, fatigue and recurring infection, are often linked to general ageing or minor conditions.
Patients experience significant delays in getting diagnosed, with 50% waiting over five months.
These are some of the longest delays out of any cancer in the UK.
Yet, a simple blood test can, in most cases, pick up signs of myeloma.
Lisa is now keen to raise awareness of the symptoms of myeloma to ensure the cancer is caught earlier and that future patients don’t have to endure what Andrew went through.
“Everybody thinks it’s an elderly person’s disease but if somebody has chronic pain for more than 12 weeks doctors should realise there’s something wrong and order a blood test,” she said. “It’s a simple test. Diagnosis is getting better but there are probably people who have been unwell for a long time because myeloma was never thought of. We want to raise awareness and we’re banging the drums hard.
“Andrew’s myeloma could have been picked up sooner. If just one person can get diagnosed sooner and avoid all the rehab he went through and having to learn to walk again, it will be worth it.”
To make a donation in Andrew’s memory go to www.biggonzo.co.uk or visit https://www.justgiving.com/team/gonzosgame
To arrange an interview and photos, please contact Myeloma UK Press and Content Officer Marion Sauvebois, email@example.com, 07949 954617.
For more information about myeloma or to get in touch with Myeloma UK go to www.myeloma.org.uk. Myeloma UK runs an Infoline on 0800 980 3332.