Just months after the local community rallied around Paul Dillon with a fundraising campaign to help manage his Motor Neurone Disease diagnosis, the Newtowncunningham man and his family and friends plan to give something back to other sufferers at the 2019 Waterside Half Marathon.
Affectionately known locally as 'Diddler', the 44 year-old was one of the most familiar faces at the front of the field at the Derry event before his diagnosis at the start of this year forced him to retire from athletics.
Now wheelchair bound, a team of 15 of his closest friends and family will bid to raise funds for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association by taking turns to push him around the 13.1 mile course when the popular race takes place on Sunday, September 1.
For Paul, it will be an emotional return to one of his favourite events on the North West Athletics calendar but he is excited at the prospect of being back in the field at the event which is one of the longest established races in Ireland.
“Being from Newtowncunningham the Waterside Half Marathon was a race I always looked forward to as it was on my doorstep,” he said.
“I did it six times and had a personal best of 1.21, I would work towards it each summer and try and beat your time each year.
“It’s a day I’m really looking forward to, it will be nice to be part of the field again and meet everyone I would have run against over the years.”
Paul is organising the push with the help of close friend Danny Lyttle who explained the format on the day.
“It’s an opportunity to have a day’s crack and for Paul to be back involved on race day and see all his friends from the athletics fraternity in the North West which he is such a big part of.
“The 15 of us have entered as five relay teams with Paul entered for the full distance so everyone will get a medal at the end.”
A week-long series of fundraising events in February, including the ‘Dash for Diddler’ run that attracted the biggest ever field for a 5k in Donegal, helped raise over €85k that allowed Paul and his family to make essential modifications to his house and car.
“The fundraising effort and the response from the community was overwhelming and I’m pleased that I can give something back now by raising funds for others with the condition through the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association,” Paul continued.
“I’ve had an extension built onto the house now and my quality of life is much better, I have a 15 foot washroom which is brilliant and has helped my mobility a lot.
“I still follow the athletics scene locally, I’ve had the car modified now so that I can control it with my hands and I can get out and about when I want and I was in Derry watching the Walled City Marathon last month.”
You can donate to the fundraising campaign for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association through any of the relay team members who have sponsorship cards or at the EveryDayHero fundraising page https://give.everydayhero.com/ie/diddler-s-push.
The Waterside Half Marathon takes place on Sunday September 1st beginning at the parade ground in Ebrington Square and finishing on the running track at the nearby St Columb’s Park.
The scenic urban route takes in both sides of the River Foyle, passing many of the city’s historic landmarks including its famous walls and the Guildhall before crossing the iconic Peace Bridge and onto the finish.
Registration for the Waterside Half Marathon is open now at www.derrystrabane.com/whmwhere participants can register in the running, wheelchair and three person relay team categories.
Entry for the race is strictly capped at 2,300 and with over half the places already taken participants are advised to register now to avoid disappointment.
The closing date for registrations is Monday, August 12, 2019.
The race is open to athletes of all levels and abilities and further information is available by e mailing email@example.com or calling 028 71 253 253.