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Cycling star Anna Meares is backing her coach in the fight of his life.

Just two days after the golden girl of Australian cycling Anna Meares announced her retirement, the man behind her success, her coach and close friend, Gary West, also stepped down from his job.

While, at 33, Meares had simply reached then end of a stellar professional sporting career, West’s reason for leaving his position as Cycling Australia’s head track sprint coach was far more heartbreaking.

In October 2016, West revealed he had been diagnosed with debilitating – and ultimately fatal – Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

Anna Meares and Gary West in the velodrome. Source: Facebook/Cycling Cares

MND covers a group of diseases in which the nerve cells controlling the muscles that enable us to move, speak, breathe and swallow degenerate and die.

It can strike anyone and has no known cure. There are no survivors.

After teaming up with West in 2008, Meares took out nine of her world championships, as well as a gold medal at the London Olympics 2012. She credits the former cycling champion with much of her success.

"I was a blubbering mess. He was the first person I wanted to go to because I knew of the time and the dedication and the effort that went to into the structure of that plan", Meares told 60 MinutesPeter Stefanovic in an exclusive interview which aired on Sunday night.

At the Rio Olympics, things didn't go quite so well, but the cyclist's disappointment at winning bronze was quickly eclipsed by West's shock diagnosis soon after.

Source: 60 Minutes
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"After my confirmation diagnosis in Sydney I had a 90-minute plane back to Adelaide and I had to work out..." West, whose speech was already deteriorating by the time of the interview, began.

"...he had to work out how he was going to tell his kids when he got home," Meares finished, as tears welled in her eyes.

"Initially, for me, I think I was just shocked and I told Gary I didn't know what to do or what to say but that I was there. And I would always be there, be in the corner like he's been for me," she said.

The earliest signs of MND are usually weakness and difficulty speaking speech or swallowing. Ironically, the disease often appears in people who are fit and healthy.

Source: 60 Minutes
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"No two cases are the same, people are affected differently. But hope, you must have hope," West told 60 Minutes.

"If I'm meeting a doctor the first thing I say is, 'Don't talk to me about timelines, you don't know and I may surprise you'."

The average lifespan of an MND sufferer from diagnosis is just 27 months. Even just a couple on from the first 60 Minutes interview, the 56-year-old has all but lost his ability to speak, the movement of his hands and, because swallowing is difficult, must eat through a tube into his stomach.

"I imagine it will get very tough, but we're pretty tough and stubborn as well," Meares said.


In November last year, the pair launched Cycling Cares, a foundation raising awareness of MND and campaigning for resources to one day, hopefully, find a cure.

"Knowing Anna is in my corner gives me much needed strength to fight and to do what we've always done, compete to win. If we can pull it off, it will be pretty damn sweet," Gary said.

Find out more about the Cycling Cares: Cure For MND Foundation, and how you can help, on their website.

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