A manager at Rochdale Exchange shopping centre has launched a bid to smash the world record for the longest ever roller hockey game, in a bid to raise £10,000 for a tot battling cancer after having two brain tumours removed.
Mark Bleasdale, assistant guest services manager on behalf of the Rochdale Exchange, is masterminding a plan to beat the current Guinness World Record for the longest inline hockey game – which currently stands at 31 hours.
Mark is a member of the Manchester based hockey team Valhalla, and his team mates have agreed to the round-the-clock challenge along with rivals, the Salford Snipers.
The marathon game, set to go ahead at Atherton Roller Rink in Manchester on March 20 next year, is being organised to raise funds for the family of two-year-old Leo Bermejo.
Brave Leo, nicknamed Leo the Lion, was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancerous brain tumour measuring 8 centimetres, in September. It was removed by doctors in Spain, but seven weeks later another tumour measuring four centimetres appeared.
There is only a 20% survival rate for young children with Leo’s condition, called a primitive neuroectodermal tumour (or PNET).
Leo’s mum Karen has been documenting Leo’s story in an emotional blog, while he’s being treated at Alder Hey children’s hospital in Liverpool.
A recent MRI scan showed the second tumour had been successfully removed by surgeons at Alder Hey in Liverpool, and Leo is currently undergoing intensive chemotherapy to remove any remaining cancer cells and prevent the tumours returning.
The family are relying on the generosity of family and friends to help them with living costs in Merseyside as he receives his treatment in the UK.
Mark, from Heywood in Rochdale, had not long celebrated the birth of his first baby daughter, Maisie, when he discovered the blog and so moved that he felt compelled to act.
Mark has worked on cleaning and security at Rochdale Exchange for ten years. Now he plans to rename the two service teams ‘Leo’ and ‘Lion’ in tribute to the little boy.
He says he’s delighted to have been officially accepted to enter the challenge into the Guinness Book of Records, if successful.
“We’re hoping to raise around £10,000 through donations and a Just Giving page,” said Mark, who has been playing inline hockey for at least 15 years.
“I don’t know Leo’s family, but I saw the story online and when I realised they needed help I wanted to do something.
“I’ve just had a little girl myself and since having her you see things a little bit differently. You don’t take life for granted anymore. I couldn’t imagine it being my child out there going through what Leo is going through.
“I can honestly say I don’t know how they’re coping. It’s so important to help people. I would like to think if anything happened to my own, other people would rally around me.
“There are a lot of big charities out there but sometimes you can’t really see how you’re making a difference. This is so personal.”
Mark, plans to recruit 32 players in total – 16 on each team – and play them in sets of four to keep the momentum going throughout the record attempt.
Official rules state that players are only entitled to a five-minute rest break from the rink for every hour played however players can accumulate their rest periods to enable them to take a 20-minute food and rest break after every four hours.
“I know it’s going to be really hard and difficult but there’s a purpose behind it.
“This little boy has gone through hell, he’s fighting for his life every day – 31 hours should be nothing compared to what he’s doing.
“He’s fought through so much. This whole event is for Leo.”
Leo became unwell in the summer and after several visits to doctors, a CT scan revealed a large 8cm tumour in his brain in September this year.
The family live in Almeria in Spain however Leo’s mum, Karen, is originally from the Isle of Man and they are currently living in Gatacre, Liverpool while he is being treated.
The little boy underwent a major six-hour operation to remove the tumour and began to show signs of recovery before he was struck with septicaemia.
The infection attacked his lungs causing acute respiratory syndrome and also his liver. Doctors feared the worst and the toddler was put on an artificial breathing machine but he beat all odds to successfully fight the infection, stunning all of the medical staff.
The relief was short-lived, however, as within a few days an eye test confirmed that Leo was partially blind and the movement in the right side of his body had been restricted as a result of the tumour growth. A second blow came seven weeks later when a scan revealed the tumour had regrown and was already 4cm in size.
Doctors in Spain felt there was little they could do and Karen resorted to internet research in a bid to seek help abroad. Eventually she decided to travel to Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool to see a world renowned neurosurgeon who agreed to operate on Leo.
The operation was successful and Leo must now undergo six months of gruelling chemotherapy in a bid to fight the cancer cells.
Karen, who also has a seven-year-old daughter called Sophia and works as an online English teacher in Spain, said she had been deeply touched by the generosity of strangers, including Mark, who had offered to help them financially.
Leo’s treatment is being funded by Spanish authorities until February however the family has no idea what will happen after this time when their son will require intensive rehabilitation even if he is in remission.
“I’ve been amazed at the support we’ve received. The blog for me is therapy and when I post photos of Leo smiling I think it’s inspirational,” said Karen, who is living with her husband and daughter in a house close to the hospital.
“He has so many people rooting for him he just has to survive this. People are sending us messages, gifts and cards that we don’t even know. It really does help, especially the messages from the brain cancer support groups where people are going through the same experiences and feelings.
“The survival rate for PNET in very young children is only 20%. I just want Leo to pull through and give people hope.”
It’s not the first time Mark has embarked on an ambitious fundraising effort. Previously, he ran a 10k race in Manchester dressed in a lime green tutu and fishnet tights in aid of Cancer Research.
“At least this time I can leave my tutu behind and do something a bit more manly,” he said.
Lorenzo O’Reilly, centre manager at Rochdale Exchange, said: “We were all very moved when we learned about Leo’s story and we’re really pleased Mark is organising this wonderful event to help raise funds.
“I hope as many people as possible will support the world record attempt and make a donation if they can.”
To make a donation please visit: crowdfunding.justgiving.com/mark-bleasdale
For more information about Rochdale Exchange go to www.rochdaleexchange.co.uk or go to the centre’s Facebook page or Twitter account @rochdaleexch