Featured in Yorkshire Evening Post
A two-time Guinness World Record holder with Asperger’s syndrome is hoping to fly the flag for Leeds again taking on another challenge this summer.
Attempting to break a Guinness World Record began as a tribute to his late dad, but has now become an annual tradition for 34-year-old Matthew Akpan who will be taking on the challenge of recalling as many wrestling theme tunes as he can in under a minute based on the first few seconds.
In 2021, Matthew not only earned his first record completing a marathon dressed as WWE legend John Cena in a speedy two hours and 56 minutes but also earned congratulation from Cena himself. Matthew and his dad bonded over wrestling and took a particular liking to Cena.
"His costume kind of resonated, because he's a polarising figure of the 21st century,” the runner said. “I felt it was the easiest costume to wear to try and attain that one record because the other wrestlers would be in boots and like leather straps, but I mean that was hard enough to win all the jeans and normal trainers.”
He secured a second record for completing a half-marathon in Leeds also in his Cena outfit. Both runs raised money for charities Matthew supports including £800 for Victim Support, a charity which provides practical and emotional support to victims and witnesses of crime.
It is the challenge and the want to hold onto the record for the longest time possible that pushes Matthew to do more. He said: “To keep the momentum going, once a year, I want to try and seek out a record and see if I can break it.”
Fighting stereotypes of the disabled community by breaking world records has led to many calling Matthew an inspiration, and not just to those with disabilities. Recently, he was nominated for a Yorkshire Choice Award in the Inspirational Individual of the Year category – a nomination which took him by surprise.
He said: “It’s a great honour that people nominated me. They’re telling me now that ‘we see you, we're so proud of you, inspired by you’. So personally, it's not about having the world record, but I have more of a voice now to the people who are kind of struggling, not just in running, but in any walk of life.”
"People are coming up to me now and thanking me and sort of like asking for my advice which is a brilliant feeling,” he added. “I can use this platform now going forward to just make a change to as many people as I can.”
Matthew spent his formative years undiagnosed and spent his childhood not knowing why he was different to his peers. He said: “There were many signs like before then, like a little bit of erratic behavior at times.”
It was only after he failed his exams in his second year at university that Matthew pursued doctors for an explanation. The diagnosis he received in 2013 brought some relief, he said. “I kind of know myself a lot better now these days, having had the diagnosis.”
But it hasn’t been easy, especially in the work environment, said Matthew. The greatest difficulty he experience was the lack of understanding of Asperger’s syndrome, leading people to treat him differently.
Matthew is grateful that his friendships and the way he is treated by his friends hasn’t changed with the diagnosis. He added: “That's an example where it doesn't matter because they're not looking at the disability. They're looking at me first, but they're the exceptions really. A lot of the others, unfortunately, look at the disability first.”
While Matthew won’t be running for a Guinness World Record this summer, he will be participating in the Rob Burrow marathon. Burrow’s career and journey, among other celebrities with disabilities, has left a mark on Matthew.
He said: “It was watching him defy the odds – not just because of what he has got now [MND]. For me, it’s not about that. It was about somebody of his size and statute in a sport which wasn't really made for him.”
Currently in the works, are two TV shows featuring Matthew’s life with Asperger’s Syndrome and a BBC Bradford radio show. Representation matters deeply to Matthew and he wants people to see that those with disabilities can have great achievements. He said: “Hopefully, we can meet the next stage and get these things changed for the better. Not just disability, it could be gender, race, or ethnicity – just trying to make everything a bit more fairer rather than just dismissing people.”