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I am not a natural runner but since a drunken agreement on Christmas Day to run this year’s Great South Run, I think I have somewhat become one. I downloaded the NHS Couch to 5k app and completed my first parkrun whilst on a work trip to Cardiff. It became addictive and I slowly built on it to be able to complete the Westminster 10K in July. Whilst I can’t honestly say that I enjoy every minute of running, something has made me protect the time to do it and I prioritise three sessions a week. The head space and opportunity to find perspective I swear is good for my own mental health.
If you really want to do something you’ll make it happen, If you don’t you’ll make excuses...
I am lucky to be part of a tight and caring family and my brother and I are particularly close to our maternal cousins. I have always doted on Paula. I remember her looking after me when I was young and loved spending weekends and holidays with her in Devon where we grew up. She bought me smarties and Now 1 (on vinyl!) when I was in hospital having my adenoids removed at the age of 5. She let me listen to her Showaddywaddy cassette. She let me watch Grease when I was really too young. She let me watch Dirty Dancing when I was really too young and even gave me my own VHS copy recorded from Sky, which we didn’t have. She bought me my first (and only) white stilettos for her brother’s wedding (my Mum was not impressed) and my first diamond white. For those of you who don’t remember, it was a truly vile concoction of cider and white wine. Paula also helped with the first hangovers as well. I was her bridesmaid and I recall matching perms. She visited me when I was at university and when I lived overseas. We have always been close. We went to an 80s revival concert a few summers ago and I remember how happy she was to see Hot Chocolate, Boney M and Kim Wilde!
A few years ago, Paula was diagnosed with a weak heart and had an operation to insert a stent. Devastated at first, she bounced back well and was determined to be positive. On a New Year’s Day walk she told me, her brother and sister-in-law of how 2016 was going to be her “year of yes”. Sadly this was not the case. In early February of that year Paula suffered a major stroke and her life has never been the same. She had risky surgery where part of her skull was removed and placed inside her stomach until the severe swelling in her brain had reduced. We joked that it was the kind of thing that you might see on Grey’s Anatomy and not on a girl from Devon, but she was remarkable and recovered. She remained in a dedicated brain injury ward in hospital for several months where the stroke team worked relentlessly with her to help her gain strength and reintroduce movement into her muscles. There were times that it was clearly painful and extreme effort for her, but Paula was determined to walk again and to live independently in her own house. And that she has done. Hydrotherapy, physio, grueling physical exercises - she did it all. Her family are so proud of her and she is happy as she can be.
Paula’s Mum and Step Dad are stalwarts. They generously give their time and make huge sacrifices to their own retirement plans to care for and support Paula. We all help where we can. Life is made easier by the work of Headway Portsmouth, a charity which supports those who have suffered brain injuries. Paula goes to meetings once a week at an outreach centre and the work and support of its dedicated carers has enabled Paula to build her confidence, recall vocabulary, re-construct sentences and to generally interact on a social level. I am in absolute awe of the determination she and her friends show and the camaraderie they have been encouraged to embrace by Headway. It truly is a wonderful charity that gives my Aunt and Uncle some time to themselves and Paula some focus. She loves going and was pleased when I asked if she thought it’d be a good idea to raise awareness of and funds for Headway.
We went to see Mamma Mia 2 last weekend and I was amazed to see (and hear!) that Paula knew every word to every ABBA song. She sang away loudly not caring that we were in a busy cinema and it reminded me of just how much progress she has made. I confess that I never thought I’d see that when she was in intensive care two years ago. The work she has done to exercise the muscle that is her brain is just phenomenal, so I will take inspiration from her and focus on the 10 mile course of the Great South Run.
I will tell myself when my legs feel like lead that they don’t and that there is no way my head can allow me to give up. Because Paula, her friends and her family haven’t.
Please consider giving what you can to support this wonderful charity and to raise awareness of the great work it does.
If funds don’t allow, motivational quotes and reminders of what we can achieve when we put our minds to something are most welcome! Those of you who know me well will know that I love a cheesy quote so please indulge me!
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Thank you for reading this story and in advance for any pennies you can spare.
Maria and Paula