Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mike Gregory

I'm having one of those days where I can't concentrate because of the image that keeps on popping into my head. Last night I watched a news report on Mike Gregory, who we're doing the Great North Run with. I really was speechless. I knew that he was seriously ill, and that he has a nasty nasty disease (Progressive Muscular Atrophy - a form of Motor Neurone Disease), but I really didn't realise how bad it had got, and how quickly. He's been ill for three, maybe four years, and has already reached the stage where he can't move or communicate, other than by operating a computer with a foot pedal which then reads out what he's typed (think Stephen Hawking and you won't be far off).

It really did bring home the enormity of what we're attempting, as well as the fragility of human life, and how lucky I am to be young(ish), healthy and fit. Mike was captaining his country at one of the toughest sports around in the not too dim and distant past, and now he's been reduced to a virtual skeleton, trapped in a body that doesn't work. And even though nobody's said it out loud, you just sense that unless miracles happen, the disease is going to carry on eating away at him until it kills him. I don't know when that will be, but the talk of finding a cure when he was first diagnosed seems a long, long way away now.

Both my mother and I seem to have had exactly the same thought, that it really emphasises the importance of seizing each moment, and living life to the full, because if it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone. When I see things like that I can never think of running as a chore, but more of a celebration of the fact that I can do it. It isn't something to be squeezed grudgingly into my day, carried out reluctantly on a treadmill, it's a chance to get outside and make the most of the fact that my legs, my lungs, my heart all work in graceful unity, as they're intended, and that I can be free, even if it's only for an hour or so.

I wrote last week about Jane Tomlinson (and I've managed to get hold of copies of both her books - "The Luxury of Time" and "You Can't Take It With You" - from the library which I'm devouring at the moment - I've ordered Mike's - "Biting Back" - from Amazon too to get me in the mood for the GNR), and it struck me when I saw Mike that what we're attempting is perhaps in its own way as significant as what she did. The actual sporting events may be different, but the spirit and the magnitude of the challenge is little different. They both have that spirit that says that no matter how grim the diagnosis, you carry on fighting and living for as long as possible, and you refuse to let it beat you.

On the same subject, I had an interesting PM exchange last night. Matt (the disabled guy I'm running New York with and who is also doing the GNR - and who has that same spirit as Mike and Jane) posted an update on his training, and the guy who's organising it all gave a bit of an update on his and said that "no doubt [I'd] be along with some sensational times to put them to shame".

I replied and said that there was no point bragging about my times because what I'm doing is nowhere near as hard as what Matt is doing.

And then got told off for it. Because "you are the best in the team and it's not bragging coming up with the best times, it's a challenge for him, and the rest of us to keep up with you."

In my head I've been seeing my role for both these events as very much in the background. They are events for Mike, and for Matt, and I have no right to be hogging the limelight and detracting from their achievement by bragging about my times and implying that I could run faster if I wasn't sticking with the team. What they are doing is far far harder, and I kind of feel like I've blagged my way onto something that's far bigger and more important than I deserve any credit for.

But I do kind of see the point. Matt wants to just be part of the team in New York regardless of whether he's in a chair or not. He doesn't want to be treated differently. He wants us to look past his disability and see him as just another athlete. And he wants to be challenged by trying to keep up with a faster runner, rather than feeling like everyone is slowing down to make allowances for him. If we were a group of entirely able bodied runners, then maybe I'd be joking with the blokes about them not being able to keep up with me, and Matt and Chris don't want me to behave any differently just because Matt is in a chair (making the valid point that Matt may well not be the slowest of us anyway, and likes joining in with the winding up of slower runners).

Maybe what I've failed to appreciate is that it is about the team, not just about Matt and Mike. Maybe (and we're back to me not giving credit to myself when it's due), what I'm doing is, in its own way, just as noteworthy as what they're doing. It may be less of a physical challenge for me than for them (and can someone tell me when I started thinking of marathons as "not too hard"?) but how many other people do I know who would spend their own time and money training and fundraising for something like this. Have I been playing down in my head how much those guys need us, whether it's for physical things like moving bottles or pushing chairs, or just for mental things like being someone they can chase after to keep them going* or to talk to to keep spirits up. They couldn't do what they're doing if there weren't slightly strange people out there who wanted to help them. And I'm not just doing it once, I'm doing it twice.

The charity name is XIII Heroes, and I've been thinking of the others as the heroes, but maybe I am too.

(Oh, and you didn't think I was going to let the first part of that comment pass did you? Since when have I ever been the best on any sports team? God help them if I'm the best they've got! I just hope that he was talking about New York rather than GNR, because if he meant GNR, that team includes Ellery Hanley, and I wouldn't want to start claiming that I'm better than him at anything...)

*This thought has got me slightly worried. I have noticed from running forums, and from observation at races that there is a male tendency to pick a fast, shapely female arse to act as a pacemaker for them. It seems to motivate them to keep up far better than split times on a pace band. So now I have the slightly horrifying image in my head of a group of my rugby league idols using my lycra-clad arse as a target to chase after. I'm sure that a few years ago this would have classed as a nightmare. "Right, your job is to dress in lycra and to be chased by a group of Wigan legends for thirteen miles. Don't let them catch you". It's tempting to let them set the pace...


Post a Comment

<< Home