Five inspirational London Marathon stories

Running a marathon is a ruthless test of endurance.

It challenges the fit and healthy, but can also inspire those with disabilities and serious health problems to achieve astounding feats of courage and determination.

Nowhere is this seen more than in the annual London Marathon, which regularly features stories of amazing achievements by people battling against unbelievable odds.

With the 2017 edition coming up on April 23rd, we look at some of the most memorable competitors in recent years.

Eddie Kidd

Kidd’s career as a stunt motorcyclist spanned over 23 years and included many death-defying leaps. He also worked as Pierce Brosnan’s stunt double on the James Bond movie Goldeneye.

Tragically, a stunt he attempted in August 1996 left him paralysed and brain damaged. However, 15 years later, at the age of 50, the former daredevil attempted what he described as his “greatest stunt yet” – completing the London Marathon.

Raising money for the Children with Cancer UK charity, the original plan was for Kidd to do the race in a wheelchair but he ditched it before the race in favour of a specially-designed walking frame.

Managing less than a mile a day, it took 50 days to reach the finish on the Mall, raising around £72,000.

John Fisher

Minor symptoms such as numbness in his fingers and leg cramps prompted Fisher, a DJ,  to visit his doctor. He was stunned after test revealed he had a leak in the aortic valve in his heart that was so serious he needed a transplant.

Fisher was warned that even if a donor organ was found and the operation was successful, he would probably have another five years to live at most.

Initially unsure whether he even wanted to go ahead with the procedure, he signed up for it and, in July 2000, with his health deteriorating, a donor was found. After a 10-hour operation, the 38-year-old woke up feeling 20 years younger.

Just 10 months later, Fisher took part in his first active event: the Harefield Hospital Jog. He carried on running in small events until one day someone suggested that he should take part in the London Marathon.

When he checked with his doctor whether it was safe to attempt a distance of 26 miles, the answer was: “You can’t possibly run a marathon. And here’s 20 quid sponsorship!”

And so his marathon tale began. Since swearing ‘never again’ following his first London run, Fisher has gone on to complete 23 marathons, including 15 in the capital.

He’s always keen to stress, however, that his story has two heroes – the second being his donor Steven Tibbey. He died aged just 23 and as well as his heart, also donated his pancreas, kidneys and liver, saving five lives in total.

Phil Packer

At the age of 36 and after serving in the army for 20 years, Major Philip Packer was badly hurt during a rocket attack in Basra, Iraq, in February 2008.

After being crushed by an army vehicle he has badly damaged his heart and ribs as well as receiving severe damage to his spinal cord. He was told he’d never walk again.

The extent of his injuries left him devastated. “There were some very dark days in recovery. Days when I considered whether I had a future,” he recalled.

Packer was feeling alone and isolated but also kept setting himself small challenges with the ultimate goal being regaining body function.

After months of heavy rehabilitation and physiotherapy, he slowly but surely begun showing signs progress. So much progress in fact that in February 2009, just one year after his accident he rowed the English Channel.

Packer set himself a goal of raising £1m for wounded service personnel by taking part in active charity events. To achieve this, he signed up for the 2009 London Marathon. He would take part in the event walking on crutches.

Doctors agreed but recommended that he only walk two miles a day, and also said it would be an immensely difficult feat.

Before the marathon, Packer was asked about his approach to it, and said: “In my mind, those 26.2 miles are already completed. Simple as that. I’m still a serving officer in the army, and I want to give something back.

“Hopefully the public will see that, and want to donate. I want to raise £1 million by the end of the marathon, and then ask ‘What’s the next challenge?”

After 13 days of striving and sheer determination, Packer crossed the finishing line. The marathon alone raised £762,000. Since then, Packer started the British Inspiration Trust and carried on taking part in active events to keep raising money.

Michael Watson

Watson has enjoyed a successful career as a professional boxer during the mid-80, winning 25 fights and only losing four.

In 1991 however, during his WBO super middleweight title fight at White Hart Lane against Chris Eubank, he was knocked unconscious and left with severe brain  damage.

After 40 days in a coma and six operations, Watson, who was just 26 at the time, awoke to the bad news from the doctors that he would never walk again.

They predicted that it would take months for him to regain speech and any sort of movement ability. Watson spent the next six years using a wheelchair but never gave up hope.

When he told his doctor about the idea of taking part in the 2003 London Marathon, the medic was shocked and thought it was impossible. But he also knew that Watson’s determination knew no bounds and gave him the go-ahead.

It took a great deal of effort for Watson to even take a step and but he walked the marathon route two miles in the morning and two miles in the afternoon.

He rested in a double-decker bus that accompanied him throughout, and after six days, he completed the famous course.

“What I did drained me physically, but I was so electrified by this experience,” said Watson after the event.

Watson’s marathon undertaking raised millions of pounds for the Brain and Spine Foundation. In addition, he was also awarded the Helen Rollason Award at the 2003 BBC Sports Personality show. He was also one of the torch bearers for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

One of the reasons for the extent of his brain damage was that oxygen wasn’t available at ringside after he was knocked out. His plight marked a turning point in Boxing health and safety, making the sport much less dangerous for future athletes.

It’s also worth pointing out that Watson bears no hate or resentment towards Eubank, who called his London Marathon achievement “a miraculous feat of human endeavour”.

Claire Lomas

Claire Lomas was an accomplished three-day eventer until a riding accident in 2007  in which she collided with a tree.

It left her with a punctured lung, broken neck and spine, and fractured ribs, leaving left her paralysed from the chest down.

Claire’s story is a unique one however because unlike the others mentioned above, she never managed to learn to walk again, at least not on her own.

She can however walk with the help of a bionic ReWalk suit and crutches.

Claire Lomas in training

After her accident, Claire undertook numerous fund-raising campaigns in order to raise money to buy the equipment that would allow her to do the marathon.

It took five years of and lots of painful training for Claire to even consider that she was ready to take on the London Marathon.

“There were times when I questioned whether I would make it when I was training. Once I started, I just took each day as it came – every step got me a step closer.”

Eventually in 2012, Claire became the first person to complete the race using a ReWalk suit. Accompanied by her mother, husband and daughter, she completed the marathon 16 days after starting out.

“It was really emotional and I couldn’t believe the support – I’m still in shock, really. The last half a mile or so was pretty easy to walk because I had everyone just pushing me forward.”

Claire’s participation raised around £233,000 for spinal research via the Just Giving website.