As a child, I often daydreamed about the moment my dad would get to walk me the down the aisle.
But, with our wedding now just weeks away, it is not the aisle that excites me as much as the fact I will be crossing the start line of the London Marathon by his side just hours later. I can think of no greater honour.
I am not sure either of us imagined that that my big day would involve 26.2miles of pain and a kilo of jelly babies and that he wouldn't need a buttonhole, but rather a sweat wicking T-shirt. But then, I don't think he expected to have to see his little girl have her pelvis rebuilt in her 20s and then go through breast cancer in her 30s.
For me, it seems only fitting that we should turn a short walk into a marathon stride.
We both share the view that life is a real test of endurance and I know it is because of his support that I have had the strength to go that extra mile these last 35 years. And I know that it will be because of his support once more that I will get as far as my injured legs will carry me on marathon day.
My dad is my hero and my rock (my mum and partner too, but not in the running sense). Anyone preparing for a marathon will know that the training is the hardest bit. Long runs, long periods alone with just your head for company and injury niggles that big distances won't hide. Marathon training is hard by any standards. So imagine doing it with a hip replacement, a weak ankle, foot problems and arthritic toes. Imagine doing it in your retirement year. And, imagine doing it for just one reason - to get your daughter safely to the finish line. A true sacrifice that can never ever be repaid.
It seems a sad fact of life that we, as children, don't often recognise the sacrifices made by parents every day of our childhood (and beyond). I am so grateful to them for every car journey ferrying me somewhere, every meal, every word of reassurance and every time they have stood by my side as I take on a serious medical problem or athletic challenge. They gave up their lives so that I might lead a full one. And I am grateful for that fact every day.
It wasn't planned. I didn't force my dad to push his body to the limits and dig deep. I would never have asked him to add trainers to his father of the bride outfit (he offered to step in when my amazing running friend fell pregnant). But, with just weeks to go, I draw strength from his strength. And, on a 19-mile training run at the weekend where there was pain, stretching, stopping, grimacing and genuine worry, he gave me the confidence to go the distance. I am humbled by his efforts every single day.
It was with my dad that I went on my first run during chemo (I should probably point out that my partner is so fast he'd have to walk backwards just to slow himself down). It was with my dad that I returned to running over the winter after months of spine problems (not linked to running I should add). And, it is a real privilege to think that I will get to enjoy this ultimate long run in his company on my wedding day.
If the 19 miles is anything to go by, my day as a bride is going to hurt more than I could possibly imagine. I have, in many ways, put everything on the line (and with a hip full of metal I could have chosen an easier way to do it). But, as my dad said on a run back in January: 'if you have a big enough why, you can endure any how'. The pain may be inevitable, but the suffering won't be, because every step we take will hopefully help more people find the strength I found to smile through serious illness.
So if you happen to see a grimacing bride and a fresh-faced father of the bride on the course on April 23, I don't want you to raise a glass to love and happiness. I want you to raise a glass to parents everywhere and to my amazing dad.
I know friends who have lost parents young. I know friends who don't see their parents any more. I know family life is not always easy. But I also know that great parents are priceless. And, it is a joy to see my friends becoming them.
Thank you dad for a kindness I will never be able to repay. Our wedding is not the day you give me away, but the day we stand side by side once more.
And that is something I will never forget.
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