Runner makes parkrun pilgrimage in memory of his late wife

25 September 2017

A devoted runner from Stockton-on-Tees is taking part in eight parkruns in places that were important to his late wife to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

John Hirst will tackle eight 5km runs across the UK in memory of his wife Pat, who died in July, aged 66, having been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) in 2012.

John Hirst at York parkrun

While most people associate dementia with memory loss and old age, some of the rarer forms of dementia like FTD can impact people at a younger age and initial symptoms vary. People living with FTD usually have changes in their behaviour and personality and even their speech. This week (September 25 to October 1) is World FTD Awareness Week.

Pat’s symptoms included apathy, loss of language and behaviour changes.

John, 64, said:

Pat Hirst in 2008

“Pat was diagnosed in 2012, but with hindsight her symptoms probably started as far back as 2005.

“At the time some things seemed strange, such as arriving at our destination after a car journey and Pat not attempting to get out of the car.

“She seemed to lose interest in most things that she had enjoyed doing for many years. She stopped knitting and couldn’t get motivated to do her embroidery.

“From around four years before she died you could not have a meaningful conversation with her. She could say something meaningful but only if prompted, she couldn’t initiate it. Then from around two and a half years before she died she couldn’t say a word.

“She was confined to a wheelchair for the last 18 months of her life. For someone who used to regularly go on 10 to 15 mile walks it was very distressing.”

John’s first run took place at York on August 12 and the final one will be at his home event at Tees Barrage on February 17, which would have been the couple’s ruby wedding anniversary.

The retired industrial chemist said:

“The main reason for doing this is to mark Pat’s life. It’s part of the grieving process, visiting the important places in her life.

“I also want to raise some money for research. There is still so much about FTD that isn’t understood and it can be difficult to diagnose. A treatment still seems a long way away, but I’m hopeful there could one day be a cure of FTD.”

The father-of-three began his challenge at Pat’s birthplace in York. The second run took place at Richmond Park in Surrey on August 26, close to where his wife initially trained as a teacher before deciding to become a nurse.

The third run was on September 16 at Roundhay as Pat trained as a nurse at Leeds General Infirmary.

John will then move on to Guildford in Surrey on October 28, close to where Pat explored potentially becoming a nun. She spent nine months as a novice nun at the Ladywell Convent in Godalming before deciding it was not the life for her.

John will tackle the Croxteth Hall parkrun in Liverpool on November 4, close to where Pat trained as a midwife and where they met. He will then move on to Edinburgh on December 9, which is where they went on honeymoon.

John will run in Lancaster on January 20, where they first settled together and where their three sons were born, before finishing the challenge at Tees Barrage the following month.

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

“Alzheimer’s Research UK is proud to be the official charity partner of parkrun, so we are delighted that John has taken on this challenge.

 “The money he will raise will go to our pioneering scientists’ research projects across the UK to find preventions and treatments for dementia.”

To sponsor John, go to his fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/patriciamemories

If you would like to take on your own running challenge for Alzheimer’s Research UK, why not sign up to Running Down Dementia? All you have to do is go to www.runningdowndementia.org, sign up and run 100km and raise £100.