“If I can get fit – anyone can!”

Heart Felt Challenge by Samantha Lyth – Red Kite Services


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It was 8:30am on a beautiful April morning on the Champs Elysees in Paris. Cars had been banned and foot power ruled as nearly 30,000 people waited to start the Paris Marathon.

Way behind the elite runners and club athletes were the “fun” runners. First –timers and charity runners like myself. We were all united by the global language of anxiety as we faced our own personal challenge. Each of us had a story to tell. This is mine.

It had been a long journey for me. One that started over 40 years earlier on the day England won the Football World Club. On that July day in 1966 my parents were otherwise occupied: mum was giving birth and my father playing cricket!

I was born with a hole-in-the-heart; a blue baby. Approximately 1 in 1000 live babies are born with a heart defect of some sort: many never require any treatment. Mine was more serious. I had Fallot’s Tetralogy a condition that affects about 1 in 3,500 live births.

The defect means that the blood is not circulated round the heart correctly, resulting in de-oxygenated (blue) blood going round the body. Typical symptoms are blueness, breathlessness and slow physical development. Without an operation few people with this defect would survive to 40. With the operation patients can usually lead a full active life.

Within the first days my blue colour indicated that all was not-right and I was soon referred to a specialist. My parents were heartbroken, as the outcome for people with the condition was not good at that time. As an infant my physical development was slow. Mum soon stopped taking me to mother and baby clinics because my lack of physical growth upset her. I didn’t walk until I was three. Apparently, however, I was always a good talker!

Since leaving hospital after numerous operations I have never looked back. When I remember my child hood I recall spending all the time playing horses in the garden, so I must have made a rapid recovery. In the final year at Primary School we did a sponsored 3-mile walk. I raised a huge amount for such an event, because Dad was so proud of me that he asked everyone he knew for sponsorship!  I had regular visits to the hospital until I was 18, but then I was given the final all-clear.

Like many women, however, I gave up sport through my twenties and into my thirties, although I have always looked after myself in that I eat healthily and have never smoked.

It wasn’t until I was 35 that I decided I wanted to do some running. My second child had started school, so I had a little bit of spare time. I was also inspired every year by all the fun runners at the London Marathon. It always brings tears to my eyes watching people overcome adversity and complete a marathon.

So I started training. I was so unfit that I could literally only manage to run for one minute and then walk for a minute and then repeat this. I listened to my body throughout training and have gone to the doctor on several occasions. The last time I went he said that I was probably the healthiest person he ever saw at the practice!

Gradually I could run further and I targeted the 2003 Great North Run. It was exhausting. It took me over three hours and really showed me just how much training is needed. The next time I ran the Great North Run I knocked about 30 minutes off that time and was still disappointed! But after that I lost some momentum and hardly ran at all that winter.

In the April of 2006 my BIG FOUR-O was looming and I wanted a challenge. Watching Paula Radcliffe in the London Marathon inspired me. Coincidentally that evening my Dad phoned to ask if I’d be a guest at a concert in aid of the British Heart Foundation. I made up my mind.

So that is why, a year on, I found myself at the start of the Paris Marathon wearing the red heart runners shirt and feeling exceptionally anxious. Despite all the training, family and friends had given me fantastic support in this, I wasn’t sure I could make it – especially as temperatures of 30ºC were forecast.

But I set out and almost 6 hours later I returned to the Arc de Triomphe having triumphed myself in overcoming my heart condition, 26 miles and soaring temperatures. It might have been slow, but I did it and raised £1500 for British Heart Foundation. My parents were relieved and very proud of my achievement.

I have never considered myself as special. I have just always got on with my life. Most people who know me now have no idea I was so ill. They don’t even notice my rather large scar, which I never try to hide.

Running the marathon was my thank you to everyone who gave me the opportunity to live a full and healthy life.

Published by Aimee Pearce

I help busy women to enjoy fitness so they feel stronger, physically & mentally. Qualified personal trainer.

2 thoughts on ““If I can get fit – anyone can!”

  1. I am with you. It is an amazing feeling doing something so challenging and worthwhile. I do half marathons and started off walking round the park once. It got a bit boring so I walked further then started to jog. I love to run now. Well done on your marathon and am sure you now have the bug to something else.

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