I served in the British Army for 24 years and my career was cut short following a second stroke, which left me in hospital unable to walk. I soon started to recover and within a week I was discharged from hospital and walking with the aid of crutches. What was to follow was quite remarkable. This all happened in 2011 and just a year later I was standing on the start line of the Glasgow 10k with my sister, completely terrified!
I always had a passion for running and keeping active. At school I was part of Cumnock Athletics Club and being a young fit athlete, I joined the Army. It wasn't until I was medically discharged in 2014 that it reality hit me and I realised that my career was gone and struggled to come to terms with civilian life and coping with a neurological disability. I was at an all time low, but my friends kept my spirits up, especially Davy Davis and Neil Kyle. During my career I lost a close friend, Stuart 'Gus' Millar, while serving in Afghanistan in 2009. I struggled with this and it wasn't until years later that it really did hit me, especially as I had the honour of assisting at his funeral, with full military honours.
To come to terms with my struggles I took up running and joined a local jogging group, Ron's Runners. This was great as it helped me get back into my passion again. Alongside running, I was taken part in the 22 push up challenge that was on social media, this was in 2016. By the end of it, my task was to complete The Scottish Half Marathon and Great Scottish Run Half Marathon back to back. I also thanked everyone for raising awareness of PTSD and their own challenge. Little did anyone know the hurt that by best friend Davy was going through at this time.
I starred on the BBC coverage of The Great Scottish Run in 2016 as they had followed my training and featured my story in their build up to the race. A few days later Davy took his own life.
I was devastated and took the best part of the next year to get over this. So Davy's Run was born, i ran over 1,000 miles in 2017 in his memory (including London and Stirling Marathon's) and subsequently wrote about it having self-published my story, Davy's Run, available on Amazon.
This got me back on track and I continued sharing my story of recovery with various charities, helping to raise awareness of suicide and much needed funds. I also started writing my blog, ayrshirerunner.wordpress.com and was gaining great recognition for my efforts:
- Ayrshire Harriers Athlete of the Year 2017.
- Scottish Building Society Community Cup Winner 2018.
- Soldiering On Awards Finalist 2019.
- Veterans' Awards, Contribution to the Fitness Industry and Lifetime Achievement Award 2020.
Just as I was getting into training again and setting new goals for 2020, like many of us, Covid 19 happened and everything changed. I adapted and had to train out with the club, something I was used to during my recovery. One thing that was on the verge of knocking me back down was a conversation I had with my running buddy and fellow Army veteran Neil. I learned of his battle with cancer and as I tried to reassure him that all will be great, I had this vision of us racing each other once more at our local parkrun.
He put up a very brave fight against this illness and if there's something i know of, it's how to be more positive and not let it win. Unfortunately this wasn't to be for Neil, he passed away just a few days later. The whole running community in Ayrshire were shocked at this sad news and for me loosing another close friend and running partner is such a tough one to comprehend.
Following a period of reflection and retracing my own steps of recovery, I know that once we can all run together again, he'll be with us. During those winter months of training, racing on the track in 2021 and hitting the wall on the trails and tarmac's of the marathon, like Davy and Gus, his words of encouragement will always be there.
Thanks to John for sharing his story and we wish him well for his 2021 running plans.
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