Super Gran abseils down Spinnaker Tower to help her disabled son


Jen and Georgia Banchard abseiling down the Spinaker Tower in Portsmouth

Grandmother Jen Blanchard, 76, has abseiled down the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth to raise money for a charity to research a rare disease affecting her son, Mark.

Mark Blanchard, 55, was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy two years ago. The disease leaves sufferers with a life expectancy of four to six years after diagnosis. Mark currently requires 24-hour care, and at present there is no known cure for the debilitating disease. There are fewer than 4,000 people with this condition in the whole of the UK, with fewer than 10 on the Isle of Wight.

Jen, and her granddaughter, Georgia, 20, abseiled down the Tower with Mark himself, and one of his carers, Dean Hill.

Jen explained Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), saying:: “Lots of doctors are unaware of the condition. It changes everything about the person, including their personality. It robs people of walking, talking, swallowing and sight. It affects the balance, leaving the sufferer liable to fall backwards at any time, thus requiring 24-hour care.

“Mark was diagnosed with PSP in 2017, but we all knew something was wrong long before that. The reason I did the abseil was to spread awareness of PSP. Everyone knows about cancer and Parkinson’s Disease, but few are aware of this condition. There are no specialist nurses for this on the Island. We have had to battle for two years to get understanding and support for Mark.”

Revealing her decision to abseil down the Spinnaker Tower, Jen said: “Mark was my inspiration. I did what I could do to raise money for him. I’d never done anything daredevil before. I did consider doing a wing-walk on an aeroplane, but I was afraid of losing my hat!
We started with the target of raising £200 for the PSP charity, and we have now raised over £1,000.”

She continued: “The abseil went OK until I got halfway down, but then I twisted the rope and panicked. I too far down for my instructor to hear me. I ended up overtaking my granddaughter. I bumped into the tower a few times and ended up with large bruises on my knees. But this was a small price to pay for being able to raise money to fight PSP and spread awareness of the disease.”

Jen added: “Mark was a keen sportsman. He did cycling, weight training and triathlons. In 1990, he was one of the first to do the Freshwater triathlon. He was chairman of the Vectis Road Cycle Club and would cycle in the French Alps twice a year.

“Even after his diagnosis, Mark has continued to attempt to practise sport, believing this may help delay the onset of the disease. He marked 2018 by doing 2,018 sit ups in one session. He still manages 100 sit ups.

“Mark’s a trier. He’s never given up. He was in a care home for 6 months, but prefers his independence. The doctors give patients a life expectancy of just a few years after diagnosis, but Mark hopes to beat 10!”

Carers Dean Hill said of Mark: “I’ve never heard Mark moan. He’s never asked, ‘Why me?’. He’s never complained about his condition.”

Although his family say they are not particularly religious, Mark has drawn strength to fight the disease from his Christian faith. He is a member of the congregation of the Apex Church in Cowes, which he describes as having a good fellowship. Members of the church take Mark out every week.

When asked what he thought of his mother abseiling down the Spinaker Tower to raise money to fight PSP, Mark said: “It’s marvellous. She’s either very brave or very stupid!”
Anyone wishing to find out more about PSP or to make a donation towards research to help combat the disease, should get in touch with the Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Association (PSPA). Their web address is pspaassociation.org.uk , and they can be contacted on the following telephone number: 0300 0110 122.