I’ll run as thanks for helping dad

Sarah Atsa with her father John Barrett
Sarah Atsa with her father John Barrett
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THE Olympics were supposed to inspire a generation and it would seem that the incredible sporting feats of elite athletes have at least encouraged thousands of people to hit the road and sign up for the Bupa Great Edinburgh Run.

Organisers say that while entries are still open, thousands have already pledged to run the 10k and 5k races this year.

With just three weeks to go runners’ preparations are in full swing and while some are running for the feelgood factor, most are raising money for charities close to their hearts.

In our weekly series looking at the stories behind the sweat – and possible tears – of completing races, two of those who signed up tell just why they did, and what they hope to achieve by the time they cross the finish in Holyrood Park.

SARAH ATSA

31, South Gyle

THERE is a special bond between a father and daughter. It’s a bond which runs incredibly deep with Sarah and her dad, the former Edinburgh West MP John Barrett – and perhaps even deeper between John and his grand-daughter Maria given her untimely arrival.

When Sarah was 26 weeks pregnant with her first daughter, and on holiday with her husband George visiting his family on the Greek island of Kalymnos, she began to bleed.

In a day of panic she gave birth prematurely to Maria, who weighed just 2lb and was suffering from hydrocephalus. The tiny island had no incubators or ventilators and so they were flown to a baby unit in Crete.

But there Maria suffered a brain haemorrhage and it took a fortnight of strenuous efforts on the part of her father before their insurers agreed to pay for an air ambulance to bring Sarah and Maria home, to the neo-natal unit at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

So delighted were they with the care Maria received there, that John gave the leading specialist, Dr Ian Laing, a framed maple leaf from the tree below which Hippocrates apparently used to teach on the island of Kos.

Then when he was diagnosed with a grade four tumour in his bowel just last year, it was eight-year-old Maria, who suffers from cerebral palsy, who helped him get through the hospital appointments.

“I think the fact that my dad’s been ill and in and out of hospital has made Maria realise it’s not just her who has to go to hospital,” says Sarah. “She always tells him that it will all be okay and has been so sympathetic towards him. She and Hope, her little sister, adore their grand-dad but this has definitely brought my dad and Maria even closer together.”

In the past Sarah and George have given their support to fundraising for the special babies unit at the Infirmary in thanks for their care with Maria. This time though, Sarah is lacing up her running shoes to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.

“Dad only discovered he had bowel cancer through taking a test which is sent out to all 50-year-olds,” she says. “He had no symptoms, wasn’t unwell, so it was a real shock when he got the result.

“We couldn’t believe it when it was as serious as it was, and we realised that he’d been really lucky in taking that test. He had his operation and he’s had chemotherapy too, but he’s getting his strength back now, he’s doing okay but he’s still being monitored.”

She adds: “Through it all though we had such support. He has been helped so much by Macmillan and so has my mum – there was always someone there to answer questions. I think we should do anything we can to make sure they can keep on helping other people in the same situation.”

So Sarah’s 10k will be raising money for the cancer support charity. So far she’s had £140 pledged, but hopes for more. “When I told my dad I’d signed up for the 10k he said there was no way I would manage it,” she laughs. “I have never been a runner. But I think he’s really proud of me for taking it on. It’s been a big learning curve. I’ve just been pounding the treadmill at the gym, and I can run 10k on it now, but very slowly. I’ll get round the course though – by hook or by crook. I might even be last.”

Sarah says that it was painful to see how low her father got during his illness, and puts his recovery and “getting through the other side” down to the support from Macmillan – as well as his two granddaughters.

“Everyone involved in his treatment deserves a huge thank you,” she says. “I have now got my dad back and my little girls have got their grand-dad back. Now I just want to do something to help those who helped my dad get through this.”

‘When you see your running times improving it’s fantastic’

JOSEPH QUINN,

27, Western Harbour

TWELVE months ago marketing manager Joseph was tipping the scales at 17 stone.

An unhealthy lifestyle, which started while he worked in London, and involved no exercise and eating the wrong things at the wrong times of the day and night, had seen him pile on the weight.

However a move to Edinburgh soon saw him change his ways. “Edinburgh is such a healthy place,” he says. “People always seem to be out running and cycling and I got inspired.

“It also helped that the Pure Gym opened near me which gave added impetus to start getting healthy. I was nearly 17 stone and I realised I had to set myself a goal. I had loved running when I was young, doing pretty well at cross country, but then when I moved to London I slipped into what you might call a fat cat lifestyle.”

A year on and Joseph is almost four stones lighter and already has one 10k under his belt. “I did my first one earlier this year as part of the Edinburgh Marathon Festival,” he says. “It was great, so I signed up for the Bupa Great Edinburgh Run immediately. I think I need to have something to aim for.

“I think it’s difficult for people who are overweight to start running. It puts a

lot of pressure on your joints, but you’ve just got

to start gently and keep going. When you see your times improving it’s fantastic.

“It’s also made a really big difference to my mental state. I am much more energised and have a lot more get up and go. In fact I was made redundant in Edinburgh and have moved back to London and started my own business, which I don’t think I would have done when I was at my heaviest.”

When he ran his first 10k, Joseph raised money for Oxfam, this time he’s just doing it for himself. “I can’t wait to come back to Edinburgh to do the race,” he says. “I’m keeping up the running in London and it’s less cold and less hilly which is great, but I love running in Edinburgh. And after this race, I think I’ll be back for the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest challenge later in the year.”

n The Bupa Great Edinburgh Run is a great day for the whole family including the traditional 10k, the 5k which is perfect for beginners and the Bupa Junior and Mini Great Edinburgh Run. Enter at www.greatrun.org/edinburgh