In October 2014, I started attending Project Awesome workouts at the crack of dawn, run by Danny Bent. Shortly after I joined, a guy called Dave joined. Dave is wonderful. He's smiley and welcoming. When another attendee decided to run 15 marathons in 2015, Dave was with him at his 15th, running the Athens marathon and supporting him. He also casually completed an ultra-marathon with another attendee, George, in the Lakes. Basically, Dave is a lovely lovely man.
He has fabulous children too - his youngest two have attended Project Awesome sessions at 6.30am with him, which makes them also very awesome indeed.
At the beginning of November, however, Dave's eight year old son, Adam, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. It was removed but found to be malignant so now Adam is having treatment for cancer at a specialist children's ward in the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital. He will be there for a year, having treatment. At the moment he's undergoing radiotherapy and then he'll start with chemotherapy.
Now the Project Awesome crowd are a pretty amazing bunch and we seem to excel in the face of hardship. When one of our number was knocked off her bike last year and killed, we came together for a memorial run. We ran the streets of London chanting her name, with 'Project Esther' emblazoned across our t-shirts. We finished at the site of our usual Wednesday morning workout to the sound of her favourite songs played on the harp and her name in candles. It was heartening to be part of such an unstoppable body of compassion and caring.
When Adam got ill and had to stay on the ward full-time, he noticed that there was only one Playstation for all the children to share. Project Awesome leader, Danny, along with members Greg, Adam and George (of the Lakes ultra-marathon) got their brains in gear and decided to try to fix this situation. They organised a Superhero Run, which consisted of people dressing in brightly coloured lycra and capes and running around London. Each paid £10 to run (and many who couldn't make it still paid the fee, in support) and with the £2000 that was raised, the Play Team for Adam's ward will now be able to kit themselves out with plenty more gear to keep the kids entertained. Many people also donated games consoles and there were so many that the extras are being given to children's wards in other hospitals too!
I myself have been getting serious about a run which will, like my Wellington Run of June last year, combine my two loves of running and history. My plan is to start from Rome, following the ancient Via Francigena pilgrim's route in reverse to Canterbury, then continue home to London, a total of 1249 miles. The main reason for this is my love of rhymey-ness (there's a strong chance that's not actually a word, I know). But listen to how pleasing this sounds - Running Home From Rome. Isn't it rather satisfying to say? Try it.
I have taken steps to prepare for the run - started researching route and accommodation, asked work about having two months off, set a time for the trip, etc. I was looking forward to testing myself, seeing if I could do it or whether I would collapse mentally under the continued strain of running long distances every day.
That's where my mind was at when I attended Project Awesome last Wednesday and saw Dave. Being the lovely smiley man he is, he welcomed me with enthusiasm in his voice and I suddenly realised it with a bang. If I was going to do this run anyway, it might as well have some kind of purpose. I owe Project Awesome a lot for the way it has changed my life in the past year and Dave's consistent presence and warmth has been one of the reasons Project Awesome has meant so much to me. Now I had the ability to give Dave something in return.
"Dave, I want to do my Rome to London run for Adam."
There's a plan coming together. We are aiming to raise £1 per mile as a starting point for the fundraising but I'd absolutely love to raise more. We have decided that the money should go towards the Ronald McDonald House in Manchester, which offers Dave free accommodation when he goes up from London to spend time with Adam. They offer an invaluable service and, were it not there, Dave would simply have to pay for somewhere to stay or try to get a bit of sleep in a chair next to Adam's bed. Given that he is spending four days every week with Adam, neither option makes for a very happy scenario. Having a place to cook, sleep and get a bit of work done is so important in the midst of such a situation.