When the community was asked to back a motor neurone disease (MND) awareness event, Dannevirke responded with Sue and the late Malcolm Stewart's rally car - which races emblazoned with MND and Neurological Foundation decals. It's the disease that claimed rally driver Malcolm seven years ago.

"Pack the park" is the call that has come from (MND) sufferer Nathan McNabb, the Hawke's Bay Magpies and community leaders.

Mr McNabb, who has had the debilitating disease for four years, has set a target of more than 1000 walkers for the annual Walk 2 D'Feet for MND which will be held at the Regional Sports Park in Hastings on September 25.

"I want the Hawke's Bay walk to be the largest in New Zealand. I've been fighting the disease for four years and this awareness gives me inspiration to continue the fight," he said.


The Jarrod Cunningham Youth Sport Trust quickly got behind the event. Trust co-chairman Damon Harvey said it was important to support people like Mr McNabb and others in the community that had been impacted by this devastating illness.

"Jarrod, a legend of Hawke's Bay rugby, fought a long battle with MND. He was adamant that he could beat it and that someday there would be a cure. Unfortunately, he didn't live to realise that dream but he would be proud of the determination of the likes of Nathan," Mr Harvey said.

The region's mayors are also backing the event, as are the Hawke's Bay Magpies.

Magpie first five Ihaia West says the disease struck one of its own in Jarrod, so the Magpies support of the event goes a little way to getting behind sufferers.

"Jarrod was taken too young from MND and had so much still to offer rugby in the region. We can't wait to walk a kilometre with as many people as possible to raise awareness for MND.

Event organiser Jodi Edwards, who is Mr Nathan's cousin and cousin of Mr McNabb, has put the call out for sponsors and entrants for the walk, so that his dream becomes reality.

Sue Stewart and the team that races and crews the Stewart car will have a display at the event.

"It's our new car - the one we have been racing this year," she said.

"We have had a good run this season, finishing every race except the last, when we had a minor breakage. It has been fun, but the whole idea is to get the message out there and raise awareness about Motor Neurone Disease.

Malcolm Stewart was a Kiwi champion and one of a select few New Zealanders to compete in a RAC Rally in Britain.

But a 36-year rally career and plans for retirement were crushed in a matter of months.

His last race was in May 2008, by July he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and the following year he died at 63.

He had sold his farm near Dannevirke and built a dream house above the Tukituki River with Sue, before slurred speech sent him to see a doctor.

"He was talking a bit funny, slurring his words like he was drunk, looking back he was walking a bit stiff - he told me later he would be doing things like hammering and the hammer would just fall out of his hand," Mrs Stewart said.

After having scans and getting a firm diagnosis, his health deteriorated rapidly over a year-long period.

"Every month, there would be massive changes, you would just get used to one piece of equipment and it was on to the next.

"He lost the use of his arms and legs, by the end he couldn't eat, only see and hear," she said.

His tale is not unlike many others - one in five people will develop a neurological condition in their lifetime. That probability increases to one in three if strokes are included.

In 2010, Mrs Stewart decided to bring her late husband's service crew, co-driver Mike Fletcher and old friend Ray Wilson together to race a car decorated with logos for Motor Neurone Disease Association NZ and Neurological Foundation NZ.

Entering classic and historic car categories, they travel the country to spread their message. This is a project that Mrs Stewart funds out of her own pocket.

"We will be running a raffle at the Walk 2 D'Feet event, with first prize being a few laps around the Hawke's Bay Car Club track in our rally car.

"There will be other prizes of caps, t-shirts and keyrings supplied by Euro City in Napier, and all funds go to the MND Association."

Local businesses are invited to make a donation and they will be supported at the walk with free advertising.

All schools are invited to hold MND mufti days and sports clubs are encouraged to take part.

"We are hoping that people living in Hawke's Bay with MND make contact so we can offer support with the donations made," Ms Edwards said.

The day will be fun-filled, with locals able to meet the Magpies along with food stalls and activities for children.

Entrants are asked to wear blue for the walk and to make MND signs or posters to carry on the walk with a prize for the best dressed.

"We have some costs to run the event, which we hope to get covered by sponsors and donations from local businesses, schools, and clubs.

It's our goal to make a good-sized donation to the Motor Neurone Association as well as provide financial support to local families that are impacted by MND.

"Let's 'pack the park' and make Hawke's Bay the biggest recorded MND walk in New Zealand."

The event is supported by Motor Neurone Disease NZ Association, Nga Tukemata O Kahungunu Disability Trust on behalf of family member Nathan McNabb living with MND, Jarrod Cunningham Youth Sport Trust and Malcolm and Sue Steward Rally Car from Dannevirke.

- Walk 2 d'feet for MND, Sunday, September 25, Hawke's Bay Regional Sports Park, Percival Rd, Tomoana, Hastings, 11am registration. Cost $10 per person, $20 per group of two adults and unlimited children. Children under 14 free. Walk time 1pm - distance 1km. Free entry to the park, all ages welcome and event wheelchair accessible. Register online at walk2dfeetmnd.co.nz or on the day.