This year I was privileged to be part of the DSA’s Team 21 for the London Marathon and it would not be an understatement to say that as far as experiences of a lifetime go, April 22 2018 was one of the best!
When it came to choosing a charity to dedicate this challenge to and run for, the DSA was the obvious choice as I have experienced and witnessed the incredible difference they make in the lives of individuals with Down’s syndrome and their families.
I am blessed to be the parent of Henry, the eldest of my four children. Henry is 7 years old, has Down’s syndrome and we adopted him in 2014. I am also brother-in-law to my wife’s two siblings who have Down’s syndrome and spend much of my working day supporting pupils with DS through education in my local SEN school.
Fundraising was such a positive and uplifting experience and I found that having that personal connection to my chosen charity made it something I could really get passionate about.
Each week during one of my long training runs, I would record a video blog about my experiences of Down’s syndrome, from being a parent, sibling and teacher dealing with communication difficulties and challenging stereotypes. I would be inundated with positive comments and people sharing the videos and had a wonderful time educating others.
The highlight of the whole fundraising experience was World Down Syndrome Day. Victoria, my wife, and Henry recorded their own version of the 50 Mum’s Carpool Karaoke which achieved over 15,000 views and helped to raise an additional £400! I have Henry to thank for his help in showing Down’s syndrome in such a positive light. In total as a family we raised over £3,500 which acted as a huge motivator on the day.
It was the hottest Marathon on record and my Dad, who was also running, and I decided to stick together to make sure we got around. It was such an incredible and positive atmosphere right from the start and I couldn’t believe how big, engaging and supportive the crowds were, pretty much along the entire 26.2 course. The camaraderie amongst the runners, total strangers, just willing and encouraging each other was a real expression of the human spirit and all is good in the world.
If I can offer one piece of advice to anyone running it would be to make sure you have your name printed on your vest. When the pain kicks in, you’re overheating, your legs feel heavy and there are still MILES and MILES of road ahead; nothing quite picks you up, gives you a boost and restores the belief in yourself like a complete stranger shouting your name! I would like to say a huge thank you to all those people who gave me a fist pump, shouted my name and encouraged me along because you really did make a difference.
The strangers were fantastic but there was nothing quite like spotting someone in the crowd with DSA T-shirt or banner or a family there giving you an extra cheer specifically because you’re a DSA runner. That shared connection, understanding and experience that you have because of your association to Down’s syndrome brings a whole load of emotion to the exhilaration of people shouting out your name and encouraging you along. It reminds you exactly why you are doing it. Why you are enduring the pain. Why you have committed so much time to train and prepare yourself and why you decided to undertake this monumental effort in the first place!
At 19 miles, approaching the official DSA cheer point, I made the most of the moment and it gave me my favourite photo of the race… I broke from the crowd and crossed the road towards the cheer point. There I stood, in front of the DSA supporters feeling like I had beaten the world. The photo captured me spraying water from my bottle into the air like champagne at the Grand Prix! In celebration of both our efforts to raise awareness and celebrate Down’s syndrome.
That feeling will remain with me forever.
As I re-write this in Tesco car park waiting for my wife and Henry to return from shopping, a man has walked in front of the car wearing this year’s Finishers T-shirt. I don’t know him but I know we have something in common. Something we have achieved for ourselves but also to help and support others we care for.
A few days after completing the Marathon, I felt at a loss, like holiday blues I guess. I had got Marathon blues. That’s why I registered to run again in 2019, I have the bug now.
On the tube home a stranger asked me if I would ever run again and I very quickly said never. However, once the pain wears off, your body recovers quickly and what you are left with is a feeling of real achievement, positivity, goodness and the excitement to go through it all again!