The Dramathon takes place on Saturday 21st October and will see Gillian, a former hairdresser and single mother to Finlay (2), join 250 runners in tackling 26 miles of forest trails, minor roads and hilly terrain in the event’s inaugural year.
The route will follow some of the country’s most famous whisky distilleries, running from Glenfarclas to Glenfiddich, the two lead sponsors of the event. Runners will earn a stamp at each stop to collect their corresponding miniature at the finish line.
She’s doing it all in memory of family friend, Mary Thomson, who Gillian describes as her “second mother”. Mary passed away in September 2015, after living with the condition for over four years, although she only received a definite diagnosis 6 months before her death.
MND is a rapidly progressing terminal illness, which stops signals from the brain reaching the muscles. This may cause someone to lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, drink or breathe unaided.
Ahead of her challenge, Gillian reflects on Mary’s progression with MND and her motivations for taking on this challenge in her memory.
She said: “Mary was a young 67 when she died, a much loved wife, mum, nana and friend.
“Mary started to notice very small and gradual problems with her balance but initially these were dismissed as nothing more worrying than a trapped nerve or just the usual aging process. They grew more persistent though and it was only six months before her death that Mary got a definitive diagnosis of MND. She accepted her diagnosis with enormous courage and determination. She never showed any self-pity and tried to stay as upbeat as possible.
“The MND progressed quickly though and Mary’s mobility started to suffer. Plans were in hand for Mary and her husband Brian to move to a house with special adaptations so that Mary could be more mobile and more comfortable but sadly those plans never came to fruition.
“Mary spent several weeks confined to her bedroom in the upstairs of her house, no longer able to manage the stairs. She was admitted to hospital with what everyone thought was a minor complaint and her family were fully expecting her to be home within a couple of days. She had lots of visitors and was feeling relatively bright but her condition deteriorated quite quickly and she was moved to the High Dependency Unit.”
On the day she was due to return home, Mary’s family were left stunned to learn that she might not live much longer than a few hours. Although she had lost the ability to speak, Mary was still able to communicate before passing away, surrounded by her loving family on Tuesday 29th September 2015.
“The biggest challenges for Mary were losing her independence, mobility and having to rely on others more and more… she has left such a void in the lives of her remaining family and friends."
The progression and passing of Mary was only the beginning of the tragedy for the family however, as Mary’s son Ewan (46) lost his battle with kidney cancer, just six months later.
Although Mary had only been officially diagnosed with MND for a short period of time before she died, her family is thankful for all of the support she received from her team of professionals.
“She received so much support from her MND nurse and her consultant. Her family found MND Scotland to be an insightful resource when coming to terms with Mary’s diagnosis and in the months after she had passed. The collection from Mary’s funeral service was donated to MND Scotland.”
Now Gillian, who has previously ran the Speyside Way, is preparing to take on the Dramathon to raise money for MND Scotland in Mary’s memory. Although she was left devastated by her loss, it wasn’t until she began training for the event that she decided to raise cash for the charity.
“When I signed up for the Dramathon I had no plan to fundraise, just a challenge to push myself after the birth of my son Finlay. But using my old training routes along the Speyside Way had me reminiscing about our times in "The Mean Green Machine" - which was Mary and Brian's campervan that would provide cups of soup and water along my three day challenge.”
“That was when it hit me; I should do this for Mary, for MND Scotland. It made perfect sense that she would be with me for this and support me one last time.”
“I can still hear her voice, and I still regularly ask myself - "What would Mary do?" She influenced so much in my life and still continues to do so. So, what would Mary say? What she always would; "We will support you every step of the way"”
Iain McWhirter, MND Scotland’s Head of Fundraising and Volunteering, said: “I want to thank Gillian for taking on this incredible challenge to help support people affected by Motor Neurone Disease in Scotland.
“The story of Mary and her family is heart-breaking and I want to thank Gillian for speaking out and raising awareness of MND and its impact on families like Mary’s.
“Gillian’s challenge hasn’t even started yet and she’s already raised over £500 for MND Scotland. That’s enough to fund one of our Time Out Grants, which give families one final chance to enjoy a holiday together. It is also enough to provide a month of counselling for someone struggling to come to terms with their diagnosis, as well as covering the costs of running one of MND Scotland’s support group meetings.
“I want to encourage people to support Gillian wherever possible and team MND will be cheering her on.”
If you would like to support Gillian’s efforts, please visit her JustGiving page, where you can sponsor her and donate directly to MND Scotland: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/gillian-pirie1
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