Leaf has been really lucky to have had the support and pleasure to meet a wonderful, inspirational lady called Caroline who has faced a mountain of challenges and turned them into positives whilst raising funds for Leaf. My advice would be to make yourself a cup of tea, get yourself comfortable and prepare to feel totally inspired by this heart warming story…
Well I have known Natasha since 2013 where I met her with a friend of mine to tell her we would like to cycle John O’Groats to Lands End and raise money for Leaf. As some of you may already know me, but for those of you who don’t I have Spina Bifida and one leg, but the most important thing you should know about me is I am stubborn, I don’t like being told I can’t do anything and because of this I will do everything in my power to prove people wrong at any cost. In 2014 myself, my best friend Danielle, my husband at the time set off with my mum and dad following us in a van from John O’Groats. Sadly I hurt my leg and could only complete Scotland. That didn’t stop us as I did the odd day here and there and supported Danielle and Andy 100%. It was very hard for me to sit it out and watch everyone else cycle, but words can’t describe how proud I was and still am of Danielle and Andy for completing it. We raised a lot of money for a very good cause and had an amazing 3 weeks travelling around Great Britain.
Now 4 years later lots of things have changed for myself and I felt it was time for another challenge. Andy and I were married for 5 years and in that 5 years Andy had done a lot of runs from 5k’s to full marathons including an Iron man, which I have supported him every step of the way. Sadly our marriage didn’t work out and we got divorced, on the up side we have stayed the best of friends and have carried on supporting each other to this day. Now although we’ve stayed friends and it was a relatively easy divorce, I was going through one of the hardest years of my life. I had moved back in with my mum and dad (which I am very grateful for, but it’s not where I wanted to be in my 30’s) I had had a lot of operations on my stomach and I also had a sore on my leg which prevented me from walking for a whole year, which resulted in me nearly losing my job. So as you can tell things weren’t going so well for me. So I decided to think about what I can do for myself instead of all the things I can’t do. This is where my next challenge for Leaf comes in. One of the first things I got with my divorce money was a new wheelchair. The wheelchair I had was an old NHS wheelchair I called this one Bob, I have had Bob for many years and I couldn’t use it without having someone with me. I felt I needed a wheelchair that I can could use without having help to get some of my independence back. So I went out and got a made to measure purple lightweight wheelchair that I can get in and out of the car myself which will definitely give me my independence, I call this wheelchair Bobette. So while I was waiting for Bobette to be made I was in the pub with a friend talking about ne
eding to challenge myself again (of course that is where all of my good ideas come to me). We both decided we would run a 5k together. After watching Andy do all his runs I decide this was my time. I decided then and there that I was going to start with a 5k and work my way up to do a full marathon.
So me and Sian entered into the Bournemouth 5k and decided to start training straight away, so before I had even got Bobette I met Sian with Bob in the rain and we started training. Sian also had her daughter in her pushchair. We did a very hard slow 2 miles (at one point Sian was pushing me and I was pushing the pushchair) we decided to wait until I had got Bobette and Sian was going to leave her daughter at home. We also really panicked thinking that we had another 3 miles to do, only to realise we were training for a 5k not a 5 mile race, which made us both feel so much better. So once I had picked up Bobette we were off training 5 days a week, whether that was running, swimming or the gym we were preparing for the 5k. Sadly 8 weeks before the run I had had another operation on my stomach, although I still had the 5k in my mind my training had cut down almost to a stop completely to recover from the op. The week before the 5k I went round Andy’s to have a catch up and I said with a heavy “I’m not going to be able to do this run, I just haven’t recovered enough” when Andy said “I’ll run it with you, that way you can do as much as you can and when you need help I will push you”. So the race was back on thanks to Andy.
So on 1st October 2016 me, Sian and Andy all stood on the start line very nervous (well me and Sian were anyway) and we were off. As Sian was faster than me she was off in the distance before long, but I dug down deep and made it from Bournemouth Pier to Boscombe Pier. Once we turned around Andy started to help me. I always push as well but Andy is the one keeping me going. Once back to Bournemouth Pier I pushed myself up and back on Bournemouth Pier and crossed the line by myself in 54 mins. Although I was very proud of my first 5k considering I nearly didn’t do it, I really wanted to complete a 5k unassisted. So on the 1st April 2017 me Sian and Andy were on another start line waiting to start another 5k but this one went all around the Olympic Park. We stood really nervous on the start line we were off, Sian as always was off in the distance in no time. I pushed down deep and although it was a very hilly run I completed the 5k completely unassisted in 41.37 with Andy walking next to me. I’m not going to lie I was a bit emotional about doing this but I also knew I had a very long way to go to complete a full marathon.
A few weeks later I was going to watch Andy run a full marathon, when he informed me that there was a 5k the day before. Well it would be rude not to wouldn’t it, if I’m already up there I may as well give it a try. On the 30th April 2017 I started the 5k, now this run was a hard one to do as the first k was all up hill, but I was determined to do it. Once again I did it unassisted and had knocked a minute off the London 5k and completed it in 40.45.
The last few runs were a real confidence boost which helped to keep me focused on my training. The next run I did was back to Bournemouth but this one was the 10k. Now this one really knocked my running ability. Although everyone says the Bournemouth runs are completely flat, as they go up and down the beach front, in a wheelchair it’s not that easy. Yes there are no hills but the path sloops towards the sea, so from Bournemouth to Boscombe it is all on my right arm and on the way back it is all on my left. Which makes it really hard for me. So on the 7th October 2017 Andy had to help me complete the 10k in 1 hr 30mins, which isn’t bad.
Now lets just go back a few weeks me, Andy and a few friends of ours went to a music festival in Southsea for a long weekend. While we were there we decided to get up early and do a parkrun. On the way there we said to the taxi driver that it is really hard to find runs especially parkruns that I can complete in my wheelchair. The taxi driver said that we should look into the Great South Run. It’s all on the roads and completely flat. So later in the day and after a few drinks me and Andy had entered in the Great South Run which is 10 miles. So I have gone from training for a 10k to entering and training for a 10 mile race in 8 weeks. As I struggled so much on the 10k I thought I had no hope of completing the Great South unassisted. On the 22nd October 2017 I said to Andy “I want to do as much as I can by myself, but I am fully aware at some point I’m going to need him” Which Andy said the same as he always says “these runs are team work, you let me know when you need me and I’ll step in and help”. I told Andy to tell me how many miles we have done not how many miles we have to go. So we were off and Andy kept his word and told me at each mile how many I had done, not how many I still need to do. At each mile Andy asked me if I was good and every time I would say “yep, all good”. At mile 7 Andy asked if I was all good and as always I replied “yep, all good, where in a very happy and surprised voice Andy said “mate your doing this” I was like “I’m feeling really good and yes I really am doing this”. By the end of the run all I needed Andy for was making space for me in the crowds of runners (they don’t look out for wheelchair users behind them), my water boy and on the last 2 miles he became my wind break as well (which means he runs in front of me to shield me from the wind to keep me going. It also means that he gets a lot o people shouting at him for being in my way, which I always find funny). I crossed the line after running 10 miles completely unassisted in 2hrs and 6 mins, which I was so proud of myself. I couldn’t believe it went so well and nor could Andy.
My next run was going to be the Reading Half Marathon and I’m not going to lie after the Great South I was feeling slightly confident. So I was off training hard with either Sian or Andy and Faye (Andy’s girlfriend and one of my support crew) and the Reading Half came up really quickly. So on the 18th March Me, Andy, Faye were off to Reading. Sian and Danielle met us up there, Sian was running it with us and Danielle was another support crew. There was a lot of nervous/excitement energy in the air. We all got ready and had an early night. Sadly in the night it had snowed very heavily and although we got up early and made sure we were ready at the last minuet it was snowed off. We were all very disappointed, although they still gave us our medal and t-shirts we didn’t feel we had earnt it. Oh well onto the big one.
The full marathon was my next big race I was completing and my nervous had really kicked in. I thought there was going to be a big jump from the half to a full marathon but now it was going to be even bigger by going from 10 miles to 26.2 miles and I’m not going to lie I was really nervous and didn’t feel confident at all. My training had really kicked in and all I was thinking about was running and if I wasn’t running I was feeling guilty about not running. It completely took over my life and I was really hoping it would pay off for the marathon. So the Big day came the 22nd of April 2018 me, Sian, and Andy had travelled up to Blackpool with mum, dad, Helen and Ryan (who had got engaged that week but didn’t tell us because they didn’t want to distract us) and another friend Holly. Now just skipping back to talking to Sian about entering our first 5k. The 5k was all Sian wanted to do but all the runs she has done with me including the full marathon, I was the one who entered her with a little text saying to her you might want to check your emails. She must either love me or be just as crazy as me to do this. The Blackpool marathon was on the same day as the London marathon that year. We chose it because it says it is one of the flattest marathon, we didn’t have to enter a ballet so we all knew we would get in and it was the day before my 35th birthday and I really wanted a medal for my birthday. The day before the marathon we arrived and the weather was so nice, we were a bit worried it was too nice and we were going to struggle with the heat the next day, but we enjoyed it anyway. As always we settled in found the start line and had an early night. We all got up with the usual excitement/nervous energy looked outside to see how hot it was and it was miserable, that’s right London 2018 had the hottest marathon and we had the wettest. It was cold wet and windy all the weather we didn’t want, but hey we had worked so hard for this and a bit of rain and wind wasn’t going to stop us. So we dispersed our support crew throughout the course and we were off. The first thing you do at the start of the Blackpool marathon is run down a cobbled path, not so good for the runners and even worse for wheelchair users, but we managed that ok and thankfully we only had to do that one. As always Sian was off in the distance before we knew it, so me and Andy were left on our own. We saw Sian in the distance at one point then we lost her, only to find her coming up from behind us having just come out of the fish and chips shop. No she wasn’t hungry but she did need the loo and the nice people in the shop let her go there. So we ran together for a bit and once again Sian was off. It was a hard course and a very lonely one too, the only real support we had we brought with us. There was a few hills in the course (once again not really for runners but in a wheelchair a slight ramp is a hard slog especially after a few miles). I had asked Andy to help me with the hills but after 15 miles my arms begin to really hurt especially my right shoulder, so Andy had to start helping me more (I’m not going to lie I was very disappointed, but was very much needed) I always push even if Andy is pushing as well, but with his help it means I didn’t stop and I can keep a good pace. So with the wind and the hills it became apparent I would not be completing this marathon without Andy’s help. At one point I told Andy my right shoulder was really hurting so Andy told me to stretch it out to help it, I knew if I stopped pushing I wouldn’t be able to push again. So I pushed trough the pain and with only 5k left of the run we caught up with Sian who was having trouble with her foot. When we caught up with each other I could tell she was struggling just as much as she could tell how much I was struggling but we couldn’t say anything to each other because we knew we would get emotional and we couldn’t do that yet, our emotions would have to wait. When we saw the 26 mile marker we were all so happy only to realise that the point 2 mile was up hill. So with the last little push we gave it all we had and without Andy pushing me Sian Andy and I crossed the line in 5hrs 55 mins, which we were all so pleased with. I had said at the start of the race I would like to beat 6 hours, but I was expecting 6 and a half hrs, so to beat it I can’t put into words how happy I was, well we all were. Sian and I hugged each other and that’s when it hit us what we had done. We just sobbed in each others arms. Once we composed ourselves Andy went to give me a fist punch but I couldn’t move my shoulder now I had stopped, I tried putting on a jumper and couldn’t even do that. We all went back to our accommodation to celebrate where I needed help getting changed and I nearly needed help cutting my food up to eat. Me and Sian were a right pair, she couldn’t walk and well I couldn’t do much at all. The more I moved around the easier I could move, but we were no where near comfortable. We had an early night and by the morning although I did get myself dressed Sian had to help put deodorant on as I couldn’t left my arm up high enough. So the 5 hour drive home was going to be interesting as I was the driver. Of course before we all went our separate ways we had a lovely lunch to celebrate my birthday. After that Sian and Holly got in my car and trusted me to drive home safely without moving my arms away from my body, it’s a good job I drive an automatic car. On the way home it was apparent that Sian’s foot was bad and was getting worse. So before we could go home we went straight to A&E to check it out. It turned out she had given herself a stress fractur and needed to wear a big boot to support her foot, which meant she couldn’t drive. Now I felt really bad about that as it was me who entered her into the marathon, all she wanted to do was a 5k and a year later she had run a marathon. Thankfully her foot healed with a bit of rest and some physio, I on the other hand was still struggling with my shoulder. So I went to see my chiropractor who told me that I had damaged my tendon that connects my shoulder to my collar bone and if I wasn’t careful it would be permanent damage.
So naturally on the 6th May 2018, still having to ice my shoulder I was back in my wheelchair on the starting line with Andy about the run the Milton Keynes 5K again but this year I had a time to beat. Once again the first k was an up hill climb, but once I was passed that even Andy was surprised how well I was doing and with a massive smile on my face not only did I beat my last years time of 40. 45 I smashed it with a 38.28 and to this day I couldn’t be prouder. Now although that gave me a real confidence boost because of my shoulder hurting so much I had sadly lost my love for running. Having said that I had also entered the Bournemouth 5k and 10k on the same night.
I did little to no training but once again me and Sian were off doing the 10k. We were running this one because Sian had missed out on it the year before. Now with no training and a bad shoulder Sian had to help me. Sian was so excited that she helped me and we had beat mine and Andy’s time the year before by 5 mins, so the second time around I did the Bournemouth 10k in 1hr 25 mins. But with only an hour till we did the 5k there was no time to celebrate. I have to say it really wasn’t my plan to do both these runs on the same night with no training but for a friends birthday I had entered her in the 5k and as she really isn’t a runner and wasn’t sure she wanted to do it so I said we would do it together (I really don’t know how I still have any friends and I haven’t scared them all away) So with an hours recovery me, Sian, Andy, Faye, Danielle and Faye’s friend Kate were of to complete the 5k. Faye and Kate ran ahead of us while the rest of us stuck together. As this was a bit of fun for us all I let Andy push me without me helping most of the way, but we all did it and crossed the line in 55 mins.
Now I know what your all thinking she had lost her love of running , she had injured herself oh and I’m really mean to my friends. Maybe it’s time to stop running, but that wasn’t going to happen I still have the Great South Run to do. On the 21st October 2018 2 weeks after the Bournemouth runs and once again with no training I had a time to beat. So me Andy and you guessed it Sian and I were on the starting line for the Great South and although I found it harder than the year before I really enjoyed running this race. It is flat even for a wheelchair and it really is supported well. Sian as always beat me and Andy but once again I crossed the line completely unassisted in 2hrs 13 mins. Now if you don’t remember the time the year before was 2hrs and 6 mins, so with little training and an injury I was only 7 mins slower.
Now this gave me the push that I needed as I had also entered the Reading Half Marathon again, because it had been snowed off the year before me and the Reading Half had unfinished business. Now I did as much training as I could, but I wasn’t able to go out and do the long training runs that I needed to do. On a good note my shoulder was getting better, I still had to be careful with it but it was definitely stronger, well until 2 days before the race I hurt my shoulder at work and I was really worried about it. So the day before the race I was back to icing it and trying not to hurt it any more. Now before I even entered the Reading Half I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy one for me to do. Andy has been doing this race for at least 7 years and I have supported him every time, so we both knew the route and knew that there are at least 3 big hills, but I had stood on the side lines for so many years this was my time to run it. Now the year before with all my training I was doing I really wanted to complete it in 3 hrs. So with no long training runs and a bad shoulder I still wanted to do it in 3 hrs. So on the 17th March 2019 Andy had worked out that I needed to do 14 minute miles (doesn’t mean much to me, but if it gets me close to the 3 hrs I didn’t care). I told Andy to tell me how many miles we had done and at each mile how long they had taken me to do it in. I really wasn’t confident about this run at all but we were off and at each mile Andy told me how many we had done and how long each mile had taken me. Every single one of the miles was under the 14 minute miles, some were close to it, but all was under. This gave me a real push and before long we had only a mile left and the only help Andy had given me was with the hills and being my water boy. I crossed that line with little help from Andy and my time was 2hrs 54 mins, And there it was my love of running had come back to me. I went from I’m not going to do well on this race because of my shoulder and the lack of long training runs, to I am loving every minute of this and can’t believe I did it.
Now in Oct 2019 I will be running in the Great South Run again, and with my new found confidence and my love of running again I am more determined this year is the year I beat my 2 hr time. So the moral of this story (and I apologise for it being so long) is I have turned the worst year of my life into one of the best experiences of my life. With a little bit of belief in yourself and a lot of support from your friends and family you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Never give up, you don’t know what you could be missing.
So if your ever watching an event and see a purple wheelchair saying “Rolling for Leaf” on the back with a girl and her running buddy with tops saying “this is how we roll” or even people on the side lines with hoodies saying “support crew” and “this is how we roll” please give us a shout, your support could give me the push to beat my pb.