30 January 2024

Former cricketer Shaun Udal on Parkinson’s: When you’re in agony it’s not easy to stay positive

30 January 2024

After a glittering cricket career which saw him play at county level and for England, Shaun Udal’s life was turned on its head through illness and bereavement.

A month before turning 50 in 2019, the former off-spinner was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. And while trying to come to terms with having the incurable neurological condition, he was dealt another series of devastating blows by the deaths of his mother, brother and close friend, cricketer Shane Warne.

“I thought, ‘What the hell else is going to go wrong here?’” he told PA News Agency. “With Parkinson’s, if you’re stressed it increases the problems. There were three major people in my life who had gone within only 15 months of each other.

“I didn’t know where to turn, I had all sorts of dark thoughts – I was lying in bed thinking, ‘Who’s going to come to my funeral?’ It was scary.”

Udal, 54, whose playing career ran from 1989 to 2010 and included four Test and 11 ODI caps for England, and brought more than 800 first-class wickets for Middlesex, Hampshire and England, sought help from The Professional Cricketers’ Trust with his condition and for counselling.

He said:  “The state I was in, the situation I found myself in – I truly believe if it wasn’t for the Trust and the help they’ve given, I honestly don’t think I would be here today.”

The father-of-three admitted there have been “dark days”, and dealing with his Parkinson’s is “still a battle” as it causes him great pain. “There are bad days and some good ones,” he said.

“I had tremors after I was first diagnosed, but with medication, the tremors have not been quite as bad. I get a lot of headaches, my motor skills are very bad.”

He struggles with buttons and laces on clothing and shoes, so has to be careful what he wears, and is particularly concerned about his balance. “You could be stood there normally and leaning forwards then all of a sudden you’re on the floor. It is what it is. I’d rather not have it, but I can’t change it, so I try and live day-by-day.

“I can’t do anything else about it, it’s incurable, it will deteriorate and it will get the better of me at some stage. But I’m determined to try and delay that for as long as I can.”

What actually helps, he said, is not talking about Parkinson’s whenever possible.

“[And] the good times, thinking of the cricket, the friendships and the memories,” he said. “I’m going to be a grandfather in April, which is something I can’t wait for. My eldest daughter Katherine is pregnant and she’s giving birth in mid-to-late April. These little landmarks are achievable things.

“Just the little things – I enjoy nipping to the pub, having a catch-up with my mates and not talking about Parkinson’s. I know it’s there and it will be forever, so sometimes getting away from that is the beauty of having good mates. It’s the little things that take you from a bad situation and make it into a positive.

“You’ve got to stay positive, that’s very true, but when you’re the person who at 3:30 in the morning is in agony and you can’t get out of bed because your pain is so bad, it’s not easy to stay positive.

“There’s always someone worse off, you’ve got to remember that.”

Udal is hoping to be able to help raise funds for more research into Parkinson’s, and stressed: “It’s the fastest growing neurological disease in the world, so it is here to stay, unfortunately.

“It’s becoming more and more publicised and more people are becoming aware of it. We try to raise awareness and funds and try to get some different forms of treatment. The more awareness we can raise, it can only be good.”

Caroline Rassell, chief executive at Parkinson’s UK, said: “Around 153,000 in the UK are living with Parkinson’s, and every single one will have a different experience of the condition, which has over 40 symptoms.

“There is currently no cure, and the treatments available only mask the symptoms, which is why we fund some of the vital research which Shaun talks about, to deliver new medications in years, not decades.

“I’m sure that Shaun sharing his own experiences with such openness will help others living with the condition feel less alone. [It] hopefully encourages more discussions about the impact living with Parkinson’s has on individuals and their loved ones.

“Having Parkinson’s can feel overwhelming if you don’t have the right information and support. At Parkinson’s UK, we’re here to help everyone feel in control of life with Parkinson’s. Find out more at www.parkinsons.org.uk.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox