Mark’s Half Marathon effort to raise awareness for brave daughter Izzi

Every runner who takes to the start line of the Strabane Lifford Half Marathon next month will have their own personal journey and goals ahead of the return of the popular cross border event.

For Derry man Mark Walker and his co-worker John Storey the run is an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for sufferers of Juvenile Dermatomyositis – a rare autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own cells and tissues.

It affects around three in every one million children and causes weak muscles and impaired mobility.

Mark’s ten year old daughter Izzi was diagnosed with the condition six years ago but her bravery and determination to get the most out of life in spite of the limitations it has placed on her has been inspirational for those around her.

Mark Walker and running partner John Storey who will complete the 13.1 mile Strabane Lifford Half Marathon course on Sunday, May 15.

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“There’s been some trial and error with her treatment which has been very challenging at times but she been so positive throughout the process,” explained Mark.

“We try and manage the condition to give her the best quality of life possible and it’s just about not putting her under pressure, setting realistic expectations and taking breaks if she feels tired.

“Her mobility has been up and down over that time, we’re an active family and we try and get her out and about as much as possible.

“She loves the climbing wall at the Foyle Arena which is a great way of keeping her active and she always has a broad smile on her face when she’s there.”

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The condition causes weakness in the muscles all through her body and the auto immune aspect means the risk of her catching other illnesses is high and puts her in extreme danger.

She was diagnosed at just four years old following a lengthy series of tests and assessments.

“We first noticed something when we were on holidays in Lanzarote when she would get tired when we were out and would ask to be carried,” Mark continued.

“Later that year she began to struggle with going upstairs and was in pain when she walked so we took her to the doctor and after a number of visits he suggested it could be Juvenile Dermatomyositis.

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“After a lot more analysis and scans she was diagnosed a number of treatments to try and improve her quality of life.”

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More than 1,100 athletes expected for Strabane-Lifford Half Marathon

Three years ago Izz’s uncle David and friend Noel Smyth ran four half marathons in four days to help raise funds to combat the condition and with the lifting of the Covid restrictions and the return of large scale athletic events Mark decided it was time to step up to the plate.

“The past two years with Covid we haven’t done much so decided this year I would challenge myself to do a half marathon,” he explained. “We hope to raise a lot of money and get it to the right places.

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“I would have been quite active when I was younger, I played rugby and went to the gym.

“Although I’m not as fit as I was then I’ve been enjoying getting back out running.

“When my brother did four Half Marathons in four days I did the last leg with them with little training which was tough going but I’m preparing properly this time and have already done Omagh so hopefully I can improve on my time in Strabane Lifford.

“I’ve been out with my running partner John Storey a few times a week and I’ve done some training with Star Running Club, I’m really enjoying it and I’m hoping to keep at it when this race is finished.”

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The fund raised from Mark’s Half Marathon efforts will go towards the Cure JM Foundation - an American organisation who fund research to improve treatment for the condition and the Foyle Down Syndrome Trust.

The Strabane Lifford Half Marathon is hosted by Derry City and Strabane District Council in partnership with Lifford Strabane Athletics club and is being held for the seventh time on Sunday May 15 following a three year Covid enforced hiatus.

Registrations for this year’s half marathon will be limited to 1,200 runners so book early to avoid disappointment – Entries are now open www.derrystrabane.com/slhm and will close strictly on Sunday, April 24.

All finishers will receive a specially commissioned t-shirt and medal.

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For further information email [email protected] or Derry City and Strabane District Council on 028 71 253253.

You can donate to Mark’s fund raising campaign online at

http://events.curejm.org/goto/cureforIzzi or there is also donation buckets in Fitzroys bistro.