Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day everyone! I’m going to confess I haven’t spent it running (don’t worry, the run is rescheduled for tomorrow instead). I haven’t spent it with my mother either because she died nine years ago from Motor Neurone Disease.

I was trying to think, if my mother were alive,what would we be doing today? Some kind of lunch, and walk? Given that my sister and I are adults and no longer live at home I imagine it would be quite different to how we used to spend it ten plus years ago.

Then, we would have been in church. We’ve never been a religious family, but my sister Daniela and I were Brownies and then Girl Guides and Mothering Sunday was one of the “Church Parades” where attendance was strongly encouraged.

I’ve never held religious beliefs, and my mother’s death probably showed me that I couldn’t (if you can’t bring yourself to envisage an afterlife even to console yourself when your mother dies, then you really can’t believe). But I did enjoy the Mothering Sunday service, full of spring morning light and flowers and happy hymns. Mothers you certainly can believe in. At the service, we’d receive posies of the spring flowers Mum loved so much (we’d have put them together the Friday evening before at Guides) and give them to her.

As well as flowers, Mum adored wildlife (we used to joke that the only thing stopping her from being a full blown “twitcher” type birdwatcher was too much of a sense of humour), being out and about in the outdoors (it was her ambition to walk the West Highland Way in Scotland for her 50th birthday- we did it as a family in her memory 6 years later), she was incredibly sociable, keeping in touch with friends from school, university, travelling, and even some of her old teachers. And she loved playing tennis.

We’re still pretty much in the dark about what causes MND. However, research has shown that people who have higher levels of testosterone may have a predisposition towards it. This would explain why it is more common in men than women, why incidence is higher in people whose ring fingers are longer than their index fingers, and why, it seems, that an uncanny number of people with MND are passionate about sport.

My mother was one of them. She was games captain at school, gained a half blue for tennis at Cambridge University, and met my Dad through a social tennis event. Two more inspirational people I’ve found out about through the MNDA are Mark Maddox, a semi professional footballer from Liverpool currently living with MND, who is filling his life with as much travel and sporting challenges as he can (www.markmaddox.co.uk), and Andrew who has run 36 marathons, and who will also be taking part in the Brighton marathon this year, with his nephew Chris pushing him round in his wheelchair (www.pushing4achange.blog.co.uk). In Italy, there is arguably greater awareness of MND than in the UK due to the 5 professional footballers it has affected since the 80s, and in the US, MND is known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after their most high profile casualty, a baseball player.

As a runner, it feels unnerving that what conditions us to love to run also makes us vulnerable. What a cruel irony – exactly the people, you could argue, who value their movement most have to be robbed of it agonisingly slowly. People who are used to pushing themselves to their limits in search of PBs or winning the league, striving constantly for improvement are reduced to working just as hard physically and mentally, in an effort to slow down the deterioration.

My mother used to work out in the gym, with weights, something I also enjoy. Fairly quickly after diagnosis, the weights were swapped for lifting a 500ml water bottle in tiny, tiny bicep curls, then a pepper grinder, then nothing at all, and eventually her own arms became too heavy for her to lift. We’d have to arrange them for her delicately on cushions so the pressure of her own – by then minuscule – body weight didn’t cause her pain.

Today’s run is rescheduled for tomorrow, after work. I’ll take in St James’ Park, Hyde Park, Battersea Park and stretches of the river. I’ll be thinking of Mum, and, I have a feeling, even and especially when they start to ache, loving the freedom the use of my legs gives me, which we sports people so easily take for granted.

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