Cousins unite to be among top fundraisers in charity running challenge

21 November 2017

Two cousins raised more than £2,500 for dementia research by completing a charity running challenge after their grandparents died within a few months of each other.

Jennifer Mehta and Cath Willis were among the top fundraisers for Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Running Down Dementia initiative, which challenges people to run 100km between May and the end of October.

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Cath Willis (L) Jennifer Mehta (R)

They were inspired to sign up for the challenge following the death of their grandfather Alf Brown in May from a heart attack which they believe was brought on by the stress of caring for their grandmother, Monica, who had Alzheimer’s. Around three months later, she also passed away.

Cath, 35, from Warrington, clocked up 229km and raised £1,605, while Jennifer, 38, from Leeds, ran 101km and raised £1,029. As well as featuring highly in the individual leaderboards for fundraising, the duo were the fifth top team despite being up against running groups and corporate teams with dozens of members.

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Grandad Alf and Grandmother Monica

Jennifer, a freelance paraplanner, said:

“Our beautiful grandmother Monica went from being a very strong-willed, humorous and feisty lady, into a confused, frightened lady who no longer recognised her own family.

“Our handsome grandfather Alf spent the past few years caring for her and unfortunately with failing health himself, and the stress and turmoil of caring for his beloved wife, he suffered a massive heart attack and passed away.

“We as a family were absolutely devastated. We came to realise that Alzheimer’s not only affects the person with the disease, but it greatly affects the people around them and it has a rippling effect throughout.”

Cath, a quality assurance administrator, said:

“It was only when our grandfather went into hospital that we realised just how bad our grandmother had got.

“Looking after her was a 24-hour job. She’d get up in the middle of the night, put her clothes on and want to go out. My grandfather can’t have got any sleep. When he died she then went downhill very quickly.”

Jennifer and Cath both found taking part in Running Down Dementia to be a very cathartic and motivating experience.

Jennifer said:

“Running Down Dementia was great as it was something we could channel our grief into. It helped me take my mind off it while also feeling I was doing something positive.

“Hopefully a cure can be found as I don’t want my children to have to go through what we went through.”

Cath added:

“I only got into running last year as part of the Couch to 5K initiative. I might have stopped running as my regular partner had given up, but Running Down Dementia helped keep me motivated.

“My grandmother passed away around the time I’d completed the 100km so I decided to keep going and did more than double that by the end of the challenge.”

Overall 4,062 runners, including 676 teams, signed up for Running Down Dementia this year, raising £247,000. They ran 367,178km – nearly the distance to the Moon and more than nine times around the Earth.

Kenneth Foreman, Senior Sporting Events Manager at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK and Jennifer and Cath’s story shows the devastating effect dementia can have on a family.

 “The vital funds raised by them and the thousands of runners who have taken part in Running Down Dementia will power world-class dementia research projects and help bring an end to the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.”

Anyone interested in taking part in next year’s Running Down Dementia challenge can pre-register at www.runningdowndementia.org/register

Alzheimer’s Research UK has launched a new cycling initiative called Cycling Down Dementia challenging people to ride either 300 or 1,000 miles before the end of January and raise £150. To sign up go to www.cyclingdowndementia.org

For further information about Alzheimer’s Research UK, or to find out more about fundraising for the charity, call 0300 111 5555 or visit www.alzheimersresearchuk.org