Calderdale runners who have overcome adversity prepare for Great North Run

Members of the Home Run project in Calderdale
Members of the Home Run project in Calderdale

Sunday’s Great  North Run is celebrating everyday heroes, people who inspire those around them. Catherine Scott talks some of those taking part.

WHEN a group of 20 Calderdale runners cross the finishing line of this weekend’s Great North Run they will have more reasons than most to celebrate.

Each one has had their lives transformed thanks to a Calderdale running club and their coach, former Leeds Rhinos’ Rugby League pro Damian Gibson.

Damian is lead trainer for the Home Run Project, a running group created to support people with issues associated with homelessness including depression, drug and alcohol addiction and those seeking asylum.

These people have been given the opportunity to train once a week for the last year with Damian, with the end goal of taking part in the Simplyhealth Great North Run on Sunday.

Australian-born Damian, who is now a personal trainer in Halifax, was approached to get involved with the Home Run project by SmartMove and Calderdale College, where his business is based.

And since last April, Damian has volunteered his time to coach and mentor the group who all come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many of the group have overcome alcohol and drug addiction, depression and stress thanks to being united by the Home Run Project.

“Working alongside the group and seeing how far they have come has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had,” says Damian, 43. “Turning up week in week out, in rain, hail or shine to prepare for such an event has given the group a sense of belonging and accomplishment.

“These guys have been through such difficult times in their lives and it’s heart-breaking to hear their stories. To look at them now and knowing the obstacles they have had to overcome shows just how much they’ve achieved. Most of them now run three times a week and are involved with local running clubs.

“I am extremely thankful to everyone involved and I’m so proud of all the runners. It will be emotional seeing these guys cross the finish line as we know how long and hard we have worked. It’s a family now.”

Damian is passionate about ensuring that the group continues to stay united following the half marathon and hopes to be able to take them onto complete further challenges in the future.

Kevin Shiels was isolated as a recovering addict. Thanks to Home Run, he has a new-found confidence and now attends regular parkruns as well as training sessions with Halifax Harriers.

“I feel like I have known this group for years. I had never run before in my life and our progress made us want to come back week after week,” says Kevin.“Before, I was judged based on my past but now people look at me and see a runner. The reality of my background is there is a lot of stigma attached to addiction and it used to put up barriers.

“People like Damian have accepted me for who I am from the very beginning. He is awesome at what he does and has taught me to believe in myself. I have a lot of respect for him, everything I am doing at the minute is because of him.”

His partner Fiona struggled with depression and anxiety and has seen her confidence grow over the last year. She is now part of an online running community and even managed to keep up her training while she was pregnant. And just weeks after having their baby, she was back running.

“We are both so proud of how far we have come. The project has brought me back to life,” she says. “The social side of things has helped me greatly. We’re like one big family because we are having so much fun while getting fit has kept me going.”

Hussaim Hadi sought asylum in the UK from Yemen and ended up homeless, suffering from depression, stress and anxiety.

He relied on the use of medication to help him sleep and to combat his mental health. A year later he is medication-free and has found a love for running.

“At first, running was hard for me, there have been times when I did not know if I would be able to carry on but the team have pushed and encouraged me,” says Hussaim. “Physically I feel in good shape, mentally I no longer rely on medication. I feel healthy and happy which is something I have not felt for some time.

“Our coach has been amazing, I have been really surprised by my progress.”

Another local hero who will take part in Sunday’s event is Paul Wilson, an actor with Down’s Syndrome who trains at Dark Horse Theatre in Huddersfield. A World Special Olympics silver medallist powerlifter and eight-time UK Powerlifter Champion, Paul is no stranger to physical exertion.

In 2014, he joined Dark Horse to train as an actor. Sadly, Paul’s mum died of cancer in the same year and now Paul wants to take on another physical challenge. He will join Dark Horse Theatre staff for the Great North Run, supported by his brother Tim Hobbs, to raise funds for the theatre company.

“I want to take part in the Great North Run because I was inspired by the Dark Horse staff who did the Total Warrior Challenge last year to raise money. I want to do a challenge.”

Paul, who lives in Wakefield, is an inspiration to Dark Horse staff and students alike. Lynda Hornsby, executive director of Dark Horse Theatre and fellow participant in this year’s Great North Run says: “It’s fantastic that Paul wants to do this challenge with us and for Dark Horse. We’ll be supporting each other in training and can learn a lot from Paul’s history in competing. We are looking forward to the run and crossing that finish line together.”