A father from Stoke-on-Trent is taking on his first ever marathon at the end of the month and says thoughts of his daughter Lexie’s beautiful smile will help him get round. James Leech will run the 26.2 mile London Marathon on Sunday 28 April. He’ll raise money for the Down’s Syndrome Association.
“Ever since Lexie was born I’ve been fundraising for the Down’s Syndrome Association (DSA) as a way of channelling my emotions and energy to do something good for children and adults like Lexie.
Whilst Lexie is very lucky in terms of the family and friends she has around her, not all people with Down’s syndrome and their families are as lucky. Therefore I have a life ambition to carry on raising funds for the DSA and also to give Lexie an amazing life.”
The London Marathon isn’t James’ first fundraising effort for the DSA. Over the years, the 36-year-old has completed triathlons, the three peaks challenge and half marathons, but this will be his first full marathon distance.
“It’s fair to say I’ve struggled with injuries over the past few months, and I’ll be pleased to get round. By the day itself I’m aiming to have raised £3000, which will mean I’m on a total of about £10,000 for the DSA since Lexie was born.”
Lexie was born in 2011 and James says the DSA brought him and his partner much needed support in the beginning.
“Finding out Lexie had Down’s syndrome was a shock. She was diagnosed when she was about a week old and had been struggling with her feeding. I think at that point in time you go through every emotion possible, and it is stressful going through tests and all of the health concerns for the first siz months or so. It was only stressful because of the love I had for Lexie and wanting her to be okay.
One of the things that helped at this time was that my dad Anthony had always run a Boys Brigade company and had three boys in the company who had Down’s syndrome. My dad was brilliant at ensuring the boys had a great time, and ensuring they were included in everything. He went out of his way to ensure that they could go to the summer camps and take part in all of the activities. Because of this, I was naturally close to all three of them and as a result, witnessed much love and warmth from these three amazing humans. I’m sure this helped when going through the emotions of becoming a dad to a child with Down’s syndrome. After the Boy’s Brigade years, two of the boys, Alex and Thomas (who were twins), used to come and see me in my weekend job at the local Argos store – they literally used to run in and go straight up to the collection counter! It was great.
I also found a really good story that helped me cope with Lexie’s diagnosis. The shortened version of it is that when you are expecting a baby, it’s like booking a holiday to Italy. For nine months you plan all of these things you are going to do etc, and then at the last minute you get told things are different. However it’s important to hold onto the fact you are still going on holiday, just not to Italy… it could be France or Spain. It may be different to Italy, but there’s still so many great places to visit and see – you’ll still have an amazing holiday , it just won’t be Italy. People who work with me will tell you I’ve always loved a good analogy to see me through!”
James says seven-year-old Lexie is the ‘light of his life’.
“Lexie inspires me every day with her approach to life and value set that she lives her life by. She (and other people with Down’s syndrome) don’t have some of the bad traits and behaviours that people without Down’s syndrome can have. and we could all take inspiration from people like Lexie. If only the love, warmth and determination people with Down’s syndrome show in everyday life was replicated in others, then I think the world would be a better place. That is why I take great pride in running for the DSA; I want to raise as much money as possible so that people with Down’s syndrome get as much support in life as possible.”
Lexie, who has an older brother and younger sister, enjoys swimming, gymnastics, and ballet dancing. She recently took part in a dance production and James said it was one of the proudest moments of his life watching her on the stage. She loves holidays and is at her happiest when sitting on a beach making sandcastles and having a paddle in the sea with her siblings.
“If I ever have a down day, a cuddle with Lexie always sorts me out and she is sure to put a smile back on my face.
“What will get me through the race is the thought of Lexie, but also the memory of my late Granddad ‘Frank Lewis’ who sadly passed away last year only a few months after my Nan Phyllis. Lexie loved her great grandparents immensely, as they did her. I’ve got my Granddad’s name on the back of my running vest as he never missed any of my life/sporting events whether it was football, table tennis or public speaking, and he’ll be supporting me all the way around I’m sure.”
James will run the Virgin London Marathon on Sunday 28 April, and you can sponsor him via the link here.