A BEARDED uncle will run to Belgium while dressed as Forrest Gump – to raise money for the hospital which kept his niece and nephew alive against all odds.
Hirsute Damian Rees, 38, will set off on a 300-mile run from Rugby to Antwerp on Thursday (May 2) to take part in the World Beard and Moustache Championships, which starts on May 17 in the Belgian city.
He is taking on the challenge – the equivalent of 12 marathons, averaging almost a marathon a day – to raise funds for the neonatal ward at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) where his niece and nephew were treated.
Four years ago, twins Luke and Eva Phillipson were born three months prematurely and, in their uncle’s words, “almost didn’t make it”.
Rugbeian Damian, who attended Paddox and Ashlawn schools, said: “It was very unexpected news and we were all very worried. As uncle I wasn’t allowed to the hospital as only parents and grandparents are allowed, so that was difficult.”
Now approaching their fifth birthday, Luke and Eva are “the most beautiful, interesting and loving kids an uncle could wish for”.
“They bring so much joy to so many people,” Damian said. “Our family and anyone that knows them have all benefited so much from Luke and Eva getting through their harrowingly traumatic times and making it to become the amazing little people they are today.”
He decided that his visit to Antwerp with fellow members of a Rugby beard club would be an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and funds for the neonatal unit.
He said: “The staff there are so brave, courageous and caring to deal with so many highs and lows on a daily basis. They deserve recognition and all of the support and technology that we can afford.”
Damian says he is excited by the task ahead of him – but is under no illusions about how difficult it will be.
“I am not a runner by any stretch of the imagination but I know my mindset will carry me to the finish line,” he said. “If Luke and Eva can keep going through their adversities then I can get to Antwerp on my own two feet – and one ferry.
“I have been training more intensely over the last two weeks and finding niggles, blisters and aches which are all to be expected with such prolonged endurance activity.”
Damian’s beard, which he hopes will get the thumbs-up from judges at the competition, was the perfect inspiration for his choice of costume – Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks’ character from the 1994 movie, who ran around the USA for three years and grew an impressive beard in the process.
He said: “The beard will have to endure the weather and conditions, but I look after it so it’s pretty robust for this sort of thing.
“All the greatest adventures had beards. Beards can handle this sort of thing! It will definitely be windswept by the time I get there.”
Damian starts his run at Mr Robinsons Barber Shop in the town centre on Thursday (May 2). Visit www.justgiving.com/UncleDamo4Show to sponsor him.