A FATHER whose foster son died after 14 years in his care is cycling to Spain in his memory.
Matt Andrew and his partner David Upjohn, from Hastings, have fostered children with complex disabilities for more than 30 years.
The couple fostered Matt, who had Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a severe, muscle-wasting disease that leads to difficulties with movement and eventually death.
Mr Andrew, a former teacher at Glyne Gap School in Bexhill, said the time spent with him was “the greatest achievement of my life”.
“His death, although of course expected, was tragic and very difficult,” he said. “He also had absolute trust in me, which is something that made me feel very honoured.
“On the day I started at the school, Matt also began actually as a pupil in my class. For four years, until I left, we spent each day and evening together.”
Matt was taken in by his foster parents when he was 12 years old.
Mr Andrew said he arrived home from work to find him sitting crossed-legged in the lounge wearing a helmet to stop him from banging his head on the furniture.
“On his left hand was a hard pad of skin, which his anger and frustration had caused him to repeatedly bite,” he said.
“I sat cross-legged beside him and introduced myself, copying a sound he was making with his mouth.
“He looked at me as if he could not quite believe there were two people in the world who could make that sound.
“He smiled, and on the spot we became incredible friends.”
As Mr Andrew and Mr Upjohn helped Matt feel increasingly secure over the years, the helmet was dispensed with and the hard pad on his hand began to heal.
The couple, who cared for Matt for 14 years until his death in 2016 at the age of 26, have recently moved to the south of Spain.
Now, in memory of Matt, Mr Andrew is cycling from their former home in Hastings to their current home in south east Spain.
The ride is expected to take about three weeks – travelling 60 miles each day – and will begin on September 12, 2022.
Friends of the couple have donated a campervan, which Mr Upjohn will drive to find overnight spots each evening.
”I’m going to use my old heavy mountain bike because if I could afford to buy a lighter and faster mount, I’d probably just donate the money to the charity and not bother with the ride,” Mr Andrew said.
“I’ll do the cycling alone as I’m then only responsible for myself, and I won’t have to go too fast or to slow down to match other people’s abilities. I’ll record my mileage and keep a daily journal to show that there is no cheating, which I could not live with anyway.”
Mr Andrew and Mr Upjohn, who are both retired, said Matt’s determination inspired the challenge.
“Caring for children with challenging health conditions as well as having a full-time career was just too much, so David and I both committed to just doing the fostering, which was a 24-hour occupation,” Mr Andrew said.
“Of course, as Matt got older, we saw him lose the ability to do things like feed himself and shuffle around the floor, but it was not until he was 21 that the impact of the condition on his respiratory system started to be felt and he began to require non-invasive ventilation.
“But he still inspires me every single day of my life. When things get tough on the cycling challenge, his example will be my constant strength and energy.
“Through the grief, I still cannot think of him without smiling and feeling positive.”
Muscular Dystrophy UK regional development manager Louise Moffat added: “I am sure their memories together will keep Mr Andrew going through the tough times.
“We are really grateful to Andrew and David for embarking on this challenge to raise money for people just like Matt, living with muscular dystrophy.”