The Alex Gradinaru Memorial Walk

Rugby is a tough sport played by tough men (and some very fearsome looking women now apparently). It is the ultimate contact sport and, unfortunately, occasionally people get hurt – sometimes badly. The situation is exacerbated here in Romania, and many other poorer countries, in that players do not have adequate insurance cover.

Some readers may have heard of George Balta, a 19 year old Romanian, who sustained a serious spinal injury when a scrum collapsed five years ago. Sadly he is still in a wheelchair and pretty much certain to remain so for the rest of his life. A registered charity, ‘Asociatia Prietenii Rugbyului Romanesc’ was set up to help support George and anyone else who might find themselves in a similar position.

Since then the charity, helped by many companies, the Romanian Rugby Federation, the Romanian Olympic Committee and individuals too many to mention, have financially and spiritually helped George and his family through this extremely difficult period in their lives. The piece de resistance of these efforts came to fruition early this year when George and his family moved out of their tiny basement flat into a purpose built house funded by APRR and friends. George is now doing as well as could be hoped for under the circumstances and even has a job in the IT Department at Orange Romania.

Just as it was beginning to like a job well done (March this year) there was another serious accident. This time another 19 year old, Alex Gradinaru from Brasov, sustained what turned out to be an even more serious spinal injury. APRR immediately sent what little funds were remaining to Alex’s parents to contribute towards hospital expenses.

A series of e-mails did the rounds asking what to do next and as nothing concrete seemed to be happening the editor of the Ex-Pat Life magazine, Mr Martin Dixon, then offered to go for a stroll from Bucharest to Brasov and invited APRR to make what they could of it in the way of sponsorship/fundraising etc. (sponsored walks are popular way of fundraising in the UK).

Tragically, Alex has since died from his injuries but that is no reason not to do the walk as inevitably (though we hope not for a long time) in the future, another serious injury will occur. The walk will now be called ‘The Alex Gradinaru Memorial Walk’ and it is planned to make this an annual event. Martin has committed to do the walk for the first three years after which, in his words, “He hopes to be put out to stud”.

This year Martin will be accompanied by two Romanians, Istvan Balint from Miercurea Ciuc, the general manager of the Gyopar Club Hotel and Conference Centre, and Alexandru Benga a former martial arts practitioner from Bucharest. If anyone else wants to join them for all or part of the walk they are more than welcome. The walkers will be accompanied by a back-up van and Dr. Alin Popescu, medical advisor to the Romanian Rugby Federation (http://dralinpopescu.ro/ ), has arranged for Mrs Laura Bara, a Romanian sports injuries specialist, to provide medical cover during the walk.

The walk will take place over five days starting from the Dubliner Irish Pub in Bucharest and ending at Deane’s Irish Pub in Brasov – a grand total of 170 kilometers.

The itinerary for the walk is as follows:

Stage 1. Tuesday 28th September – Bucharest to Ploiesti.

Stage 2. Wednesday 29th September – Ploiesti to Valenii de Munte.

Stage 3. Thursday 30th September – Valenii de Munte to Cheia.

Stage 4. Friday 1st October – Cheia to Sarcele.

Stage 5. Saturday 2nd October – Sarcele to Brasov.

If anybody is wondering why the last two stages are relatively short there are two reasons. Firstly as you leave Cheia there is a huge 10 – 12 kilometer climb which, if the walkers try to continue on to Brasov, would make the last stage extremely difficult. Secondly Martin, Istvan and Alexandru hope that many of Alex’s friends join them for the final stroll into Brasov. The walkers will be stopping at the ‘Metrorex Brasov’ rugby ground where Alex played for 8 years and, hopefully, a ruby match will be arranged in his honour. From here the walkers will continue to Deane’s Irish Pub where they hope that many of Alex’s friends and the rugby community of Brasov will join them for a monster party starting at 7pm.

Talking of which, when the walkers get back to Bucharest (by van) on Sunday 3rd October there will be a welcome home party at the James Joyce Irish Pub in Bucharest starting at 7pm until the walkers fall over. (The owners of the James Joyce have generously agreed to donate 20% of the night’s takings to APRR)

If anyone would like to sponsor the event (and we hope that somebody does) contact Dennis McAndrew, mob. 0724 282408, e-mail. d.mcandrew@btopenworld.com . Sponsorship can be in Ron, Euros or Pound Sterling and can be per km walked or a set amount for the whole walk.

Donations can also be made direct to the charity – Asociatia Prietenii Rugbyului Romanesc, Registration No. 18775565.

Bank: BRDE ROBU. Sediul Dorobanti.

Address: Calea Dorobanti 135, Sector 1, Bucharest.

Account No. RON      RO31 BRDE 445 SV 61370464450

Account No. EUR      RO92 BRDE 445 SV 61371184450

Account No. GPB      RO84 BRDE 445 SV 61371344450

Please e-mail Dennis to say that you have done so as we would like to be able to gauge the success of the walk against future fundraising activities.

Wanna watch? A combined Bucuresti Oaks team will play three matches at home in the Amlin Cup (The second division Heineken Cup) this autumn. October 9th v Leeds Carnegie (England), October 16th v Parma (Italy) and December 11th v Stade Francais (France). The matches will take place at the National Rugby Stadium near Arcul de Triumf.

Wanna play? The Irish Spirit, a rag tag, disparate bunch of ex-pats augmented by a few Romanians will play a French team on Saturday 4th December – venue to be confirmed. Always looking for new players (the Irish that is), it’s not too strenuous (20 minutes each way, no kicking allowed – of the ball that is), and good fun. Martin is even threatening to play himself if he has recovered by then. He’ll definitely be taking part in the post-match beer!!!!

Interested? Contact Oliver Perkins0723 380 092 or oliver@brainovate.com, but be warned, there might be some training involved.

A special Thank you goes out to Martin Dixon with Expat Life for turning us on to this important issue.