Rebecca to run marathon for her dad and hospital staff who helped him

Tuesday, 31st May 2016, 9:00 am

Firstly, she’ll think about her late dad, Tony. And secondly, the Culmore woman will focus on the dedication and commitment of the staff in Ward 43 at Altnagelvin Hospital, who cared for her father during his final days.

Tony McGonagle, a teacher at St Columb’s College, passed away in March 2010, aged 62.

For Rebecca and her family, the loss was heartbreaking.

“My dad had retired at 58 and he spent those last years really living life to the full,” said Rebecca.

“He was the fittest and healthiest man I have ever known, anyone who knew him knew how he loved nothing more than being out on his bike or climbing the mountains of Donegal.

“He loved spending time in nature, he felt at home in the garden and never stopped looking after us all as a family. I took it for granted that he would reach old age, but God had other plans.”

Rebecca, who is a member of ‘Reach’ running club, said her father’s death came as a blow to the entire family.

She also struggled with depression in the aftermath and believes that running has been a major factor in helping her recover from that struggle.

“All the doctor can really do is give you anti-depressants but beyond that it’s down to the individual person and I decided I would start running. Like Forrest Gump famously said ‘I just felt like running’ and I have never really looked back.

“ Running has been a huge help to me. I did the Waterside Half Marathon in September and it’s been non stop since then really. There are times when it’s tough doing all the training but my running club is so supportive and I have to say that I just think about my dad and that keeps me going.

“My dad’s death was one of the hardest experiences we have ever had to go through in our lives and it was truly life changing for me on a personal level. My dad was the strongest man I have ever known. I feel the pain of his absence every day along with the rest of my family. Up until his premature death, to me cancer was something that had always happened to other people, other families, it had never come to our door.”

Rebecca recalled the helpless feeling she experienced during her father’s illness and explained why she is now motivated to help others.

“Cancer is a terrible illness, it’s indiscriminate and heartbreaking for the sufferers and their families. I can honestly say that I have never felt so helpless in my life as I did when I watched my daddy suffer from this illness. I’m sure most, if not all, of the people reading this know someone who has been affected by cancer and can identify with my story.

“My dad may have died six years ago but he is still with us every day and for that I am truly grateful. When I first started training for the longer runs I struggled mentally at the thought of the miles that lay ahead. But then I started thinking about my daddy and the possibility of raising money to help patients and other families on this journey and that gave me the strength and motivation to not only complete my runs but to really enjoy them as well.”

Part of Rebecca’s motivation has also come from her fellow runners at Reach Running Club.

“They are amazing people. Everyone in the club helps one another and we motivate each other.”

The SSE Walled City Marathon’s will challenge competitors to a 26.2 mile course, taking in the stunning views of the famed City Walls, the Peace Bridge, and the banks of the River Foyle before finishing in the Guildhall.

To donate to Rebecca’s fundraising effort, visit,