‘Running makes me feel more like my old self’ after brain injury

Emma Doherty taking part in ParkRun. Picture courtesy of Finn McInroy
Emma Doherty taking part in ParkRun. Picture courtesy of Finn McInroy

A woman who sustained a brain injury in a crash in which her friend lost their life, has said taking part in the city’s weekly parkrun makes her feel more like her old self.

Emma Doherty was injured in the serious road accident in 2016. Her friend and colleague tragically died and Emma, a mum of two young sons, sustained a brain injury.

Emma with her sons Issac and Rowan

Emma with her sons Issac and Rowan

The Eglinton woman had been a keen runner before the injury and she said taking it up again has helped in her recovery process.

Her brain injury can never be cured, but taking part in running is just one way Emma manages the effects of it.

Initially, the brain injury affected Emma’s memories.

“For weeks after the crash, even though I was awake I just couldn’t hold down any memories. I don’t remember being in the Royal for two weeks after the accident and my memories of my time recovering in Spruce House are really sketchy.”

Emma got out two days before Christmas to spend the festive season with her family, but barely remembers that either.

“My brain injury is all in the frontal cortex and affects what they call executive functions. For example it can take a really long time between me thinking about doing something and actually doing it.

“My brain injury was really hard for me to get my head around because I didn’t understand it and didn’t know anyone else who had one.

“Whenever I initially got out of hospital, I thought I was just being really lazy and I was asking doctors to let me get back to work and my routine.

“I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. I just thought I would have a wee rest over Christmas and then I would be back to normal in January.”

Emma said it took months for her to realise there was something wrong. 

“When you hear on the news that there has been a car accident and someone has sustained a head injury, I used to think they had split their head and had to get stitches.

“A brain injury is not physical, it is often not something you can see and difficult to explain. At a time I thought I was making it up.”

Emma said the recovery process is ongoing three years after the crash, and that has been supported by Community Brain Injury Team, Headway and the Cedar Foundation.

“Headway is an amazing group and I go there once a week. I have met some really good friends who understand and know what it is like to have a brain injury.”

It was a support worker who initially suggested taking up running again to Emma.  “I ran before the accident and had done the Waterside half marathon a couple times. I had put on a lot of weight because I wasn’t really moving and I was feeling very down about myself at the time.

“After she suggested it I contacted a number of running clubs and joined Eglinton because they were the only ones launching a couch to 5k. In the final week we did the park run and I have gone every week since.”

Emma said that when she is doing parkrun she doesn’t have to think about anything else but running.

“I would suffer from fatigue quite a lot as a result of the brain injury. I can run for half an hour and I would be fine, but if I had to talk to someone for an hour that would destroy me. I would be absolutely wrecked.

“When I’m doing parkrun I don’t have to think about anything else but running. I really like it. I was very isolated after the accident and I lost a lot of people with being off work. Some people distanced themselves from me as well because they didn’t understand brain injury.

“Being part of the parkrun community has helped me meet so many wonderful people. I had felt quite removed from the real world for a long time, but parkrun made me feel like I belonged.”

Emma said she is not the same person as she was before the accident, but adds ‘I’m not massively removed from that person. I feel more like myself when I am out running’.

Emma has set herself the task of running the Walled City Marathon in 2020 and hopes that sharing her story will inspire others to take up running.

“My story was shared on the parkrun website and other people with experiences like mine have got in touch saying they want to take up running. I think that is really good.

“I always feel so lucky to be able to run. I know people who had accidents that weren’t as bad as mine but they are in a wheelchair or have no balance.

“I love running, no equipment or anyone else required. It’s just you and a pair of running shoes.”

Emma has raised money from the charity Headway in the past by running half marathons, however she wants to be able to raise funds for the Friends of Spruce House when she takes on the marathon next year.

“I don’t really remember my time there but they do great work. They’re always amazing when I go in for outpatient appointments.”