HE has scaled sand dunes, trekked through the jungle and climbed a volcano. Now, the Sahara Desert awaits for Willie Henderson.

No stranger to overcoming challenges or rising to the occasion when most needed during his player career, Henderson is facing another very different proposition next year. Five decades after he captivated at Ibrox, he continues to inspire.

The days will be long and the miles difficult to cover. The physical challenge will take its toll, but the mental barrier is easy to overcome.

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“Michelle keeps me going, son, Michelle keeps me going,” Henderson says of his daughter, who died in 2012, aged 28, after losing her battle with cervical cancer. “Michelle is right there at the front of my mind when I am doing this.

“I know I have got to get through it. So far I have been able to, and I will again.”

When Henderson settles down to celebrate his 75th birthday on a January evening, he will do so surrounded by friends, and thousands of square miles of some of the most barren, yet somehow beautiful, landscape in the world.

The Rangers legend has dedicated recent years to raising funds for the Michelle Henderson Cervical Cancer Trust and his latest trek will take him 100 miles across the Sahara in just seven days.

Michelle was diagnosed with the disease in October 2010 and passed away on her 28th birthday. To this day, her legacy lives on.

“Michelle was a huge loss to myself and my wife Veronica, a huge loss,” Henderson said.

“She was such a tough girl, she battled through her illness and she was very unselfish.

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“She came up with the idea of the Michelle Henderson Cervical Cancer Trust and all of a sudden she produced it in front of us.

“She said to us, if she didn’t make it, would we help keep it going? Thankfully I have been fit enough to do all of these treks.

“All of my life, people have been a huge help to me, whether that is my career, business, charity work, and from all over the world they have stepped up to back me and support me to help us raise as much money as we can.”

That sum now stands at almost a quarter of a million pounds but the efforts of Henderson, and Michelle’s Trust, cannot be calculated only in the bottom line.

The loss of his daughter had a profound impact on Henderson and his family. From the sadness, there has been hope, from their loss, others will gain.

“It is so important for women to go for the smear test,” Henderson said. “They are playing with their lives if they don’t go, they are playing with their lives.

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“The thing is, it is not an easy subject to talk to women about, it is a very sensitive thing and one of the biggest reasons they don’t go, they tell me, is that it is going to be embarrassing.

“I try to get through to them that embarrassment will never kill you. Cervical cancer will, and does. I am trying to get that through and I hope that my doing this that the message gets out there.”

By the time Henderson takes the final steps of his 100 mile trek, the former Ibrox winger will have covered ten times that distance in preparation work alone.

His training regime is relentless and he walks up to 16Km a day to keep himself in shape. Before he heads for Morocco, the Pentland Hills and the West Highland Way will act as his dummy runs, but there is only so much he can do to ready himself for what he will face in the Great Desert.

“I have done the Gobi Desert, that was to raise funds for Motor Neurone Disease, which killed my great rival and friend Jimmy Johnstone and for underprivileged children for the Davie Cooper Trust,” Henderson said.

“I have been through the Indonesian jungle for Michelle’s Trust and Krakatoa, I went up that. I have been through the Namibian desert. That was an epic journey that, it was really, really tough.

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“To be honest, they are all tough. But I try to prepare myself, I keep my fitness levels up and I try to put the miles in before I do these things.”

For most people, any one of the challenges that Henderson has accepted and risen to would be a once-in-a-lifetime moment, yet they have become a regular occurrence for a man that is still a familiar face around Ibrox and is fondly remembered by supporters.

The words of doctors and those around him are taken on board but none have attempted to dissuade Henderson from undertaking such arduous adventures. Once again, he is preparing to step into the relative unknown.

“Over the time I have been doing my treks, I have taken advice and some things have been put in front of me and there are different reasons why some treks have come up,” he said.

“I have never done the Sahara Desert and it looks a real challenge, so that was one of the main reasons that I took it on board.

“Denis Griffin, who is actually married to Bobby Murdoch’s daughter, he has been a huge help for me from day one.

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“Everything I have done, Denis has been on it and I have to give him a mention and a thank you. He has been a great help.”

From the dense jungles of Indonesia to the footprint of an active volcano, Henderson has seen it all. One expedition stands out, though.

“The Namibian desert was the toughest, without a doubt,” Henderson said. “Those sand dunes were something else.

“Three people never made it. It was very tough, very tough.

“Some of the highest sand dunes in the world were there. The height of the dunes was unreal. One of them was that high I thought I was going to need a parachute to get down.

“I am not sure what they are like in the Sahara, but it won’t be like walking along the pavement anyway...”

Henderson will set off in Morocco with those memories still fresh in his mind but the cause will continue to drive and motivate him.

His endeavours will be felt far closer to home. Every stride Henderson takes forward is one in the right direction.

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“There will be a meeting soon but so far 10 or 12 people could be going,” he said.

“There has been a good response and people have been very good at donating to the Trust. That is what it is all about.

“I don’t know what we will raise, I honestly don’t know. But every penny always counts.

“The more we raise the better chance we have got of buying equipment for the hospitals, which is the main thing. Thanks to the people and all of their donations, hospitals all over Scotland will benefit from this.”

*For more information, visit the Michelle Henderson Cervical Cancer Trust on Facebook, https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Team/Henderson75, email denis@bobbymurdoch.co.uk or call 07709891956.