Ed Slater says he has been overwhelmed by support from the rugby community after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
Former Gloucester and Leicester lock Slater announced his retirement from rugby with immediate effect three weeks ago.
The 34-year-old revealed that he had been diagnosed with the devastating degenerative condition that fellow former sports stars Doddie Weir, Rob Burrow and Len Johnrose are also battling.
Fund-raising initiatives were immediately launched, with a JustGiving page recently topping £150,000.
And Slater and a group of current and former players arrived back at Gloucester’s Kingsholm ground on Wednesday following a 350-mile cycle ride that lasted three days and raised a further £155,000.
Gloucester and Slater set up the 4Ed campaign, which will initially work to raise awareness of his diagnosis, generate funds for his treatment and support his young family.
The route took in Leicester’s Mattioli Woods Welford Road stadium, Milton Keynes – Slater’s home town – and Twickenham before heading back to the west country, with Slater being joined by the likes of current Gloucester players Lewis Ludlow, Billy Twelvetrees and Fraser Balmain.
They were welcomed by around 250 Gloucester supporters, family and friends, and an emotional Slater said: “I don’t know where to start. I had a little cry coming down Birdlip Hill (seven miles from Kingsholm).
“I am just a normal bloke from Milton Keynes who happened to play a bit of rugby, and the way people have supported me since my diagnosis means so much.
“The welcome here is humbling and mind-blowing. I have had incredible support from the club.
“After receiving the diagnosis I was in an extraordinarily dark place, and they (Gloucester) have lifted me out of that.
“I did have a cry when we came into Gloucester because a lot has changed for me since the diagnosis. I’ve had to give up rugby. I’ve had to give up a lot of things.
“A lot of this challenge was about proving I could still do something which was very difficult, and it nearly broke me.”
Slater, who featured in a number of England squads and represented England Saxons, joined Gloucester in 2017 following seven years with Leicester, where he served as club captain.
Reflecting on the last few weeks, he added: “I just decided that it (disease) is out of my control, there is not a lot I can do about it.
“It is not going to go away and it is not going to change, and it is certainly not going to do that if I sit at home and wallow in self-pity. For me, I just need to get on with doing stuff.
“You think you have a small friendship group of five or six people, then you get overwhelmed with messages and you suddenly realise there are a lot of people who care about you.
“I am not going to help anyone by stewing at home – my kids don’t need it, my wife doesn’t need it, I don’t need it – so I am determined to carry on and try and keep that attitude.
“I am in a good head-space, to be honest.”
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