As thousands of athletes limber up in Rio, maybe your thoughts are turning to sporting glory and personal achievement too? Join thousands of runners closer to home on Sunday October 9 for the eleventh annual Herts 10K and get your Olympic fix while supporting Rennie Grove Hospice Care.
Harpenden man Ray Newton has taken part in almost every Herts 10K challenge since the event began in 2005, usually alongside his son, Mark, daughter, Anna and their partners, Natasha and Graham. He explains why the event has such resonance for him and his whole family:
“I love the fields and the footpaths around Rothamsted; I’ve been running through them on and off for 25 years so the whole area feels very familiar and as a result the course holds a special significance too. I’d managed to get my Herts 10K time down to 55 minutes and was planning to do some warm weather training on a trip to Spain in the summer of 2011 as part of my preparation.”
But whilst in Spain, Ray was struck down by a virus that caused his immune system to attack his nervous system. Ray recalled:
“I’d contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome*, which affects around one person in 100,000 people. I was paralysed from the chest down and hospitalised for almost 9 months in Spain and, after being flown back to the UK in an Air Ambulance, at Luton & Dunstable and Northwick Park, Harrow. When I finally got back to the UK, an entry to the 2012 London Marathon was waiting for me! I’d run it before and was desperate to run it again in the year that the Olympic Games came to London, but there was no way I would be able to manage it in April 2012. I could barely walk at that point.”
Ray began the painfully slow process of rehabilitation, and hit upon the idea of taking on his much-loved Herts 10K in the October of 2012.
“It gave me another six months’ recovery time and it was a more achievable distance,” he explained. “I might not be able to run the London Marathon, but I could still give myself a goal that would help with my recovery.
“So I joined 3,000 runners at the start line four years ago, flanked by Anna and her husband, Graham as well as Mark and his wife, Natasha. I was very, very slow – but at no time did I allow myself to stop or walk. And I did it. And every year since then the event has been, and continues to be, a crucial part of my rehabilitation. Training for it keeps me fit and gets me stronger each year and taking part helps me gauge how well I’m doing. I’ve never been able to match my pre-illness time of 55 minutes but I’m happy to have achieved 65 minutes post-virus.”
The Newton family have another reason to feel fondly towards the Herts 10K. In 2010, Ray’s wife, Mary, was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. Her prognosis was poor: it was feared she may have had only a year to live.
“Six years down the line and she’s in remission,” said Ray. “Every time a Herts 10K comes round we feel thankful for another year together and hopeful for the future. Although Mary didn’t receive care from Rennie Grove during her illness and treatment, we can appreciate now just how vital the support they offer is and we’re very happy to offer our support in this small way each October in an event that is so meaningful to us.”
If you’ve been inspired by Ray’s story, sign up today at www.herts10k.com or call 01442 820740 and register to walk, jog or run on Sunday October 9.
*Initial symptoms include weakness or tingling sensations in the legs, which can spread to the arms and upper body. The symptoms can increase in intensity until certain muscles cannot be used at all and, when severe, the person is almost totally paralysed. From www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/gbs/detail_gbs.htm