Naked men with guns and wild wolves -- this global running gran has seen it all
Despite all the knocks, 62-year-old Rosie is determined to keep running for prostate cancer awareness, writes Susan Daly
Published 22/09/2009 | 00:00
Round-the-world runner Rosie Swale-Pope has been chased by wolves and a gunman and has run on a fractured hip -- but says the Wicklow mountains have been one of her toughest challenges yet.
"I haven't been running for a month so it was a little hard," she says cheerfully. The 62-year-old grandmother is currently pounding her way to Antrim from Wexford in a novel bid to raise awareness of prostate cancer.
Her 236-mile run along the east coast of Ireland should be a stroll in the park compared to the five-year odyssey she completed this time last year. Rosie was 56 when her second husband Clive Pope died of prostate cancer in 2002.
"Neither of us knew anything about it," says Rosie, "If my husband had got a check-up and learned about his cancer earlier he would be here today."
Rosie, originally from Co Limerick, took up marathon-running at the age of 48. A few months after Clive passed away, she decided to run around the world, beginning and ending her trek at their home in Wales. Her aim was to raise awareness of prostate cancer but along the way she also generated about £250,000 in funds for orphaned children in Russia.
Rosie set out on October 2, 2003, pulling all her supplies, sleeping bag and tent in a cart behind her. "The idea was born out of my sorrow and grief and I suppose I didn't know if I was running away or towards something," she says.
Her epic journey took her through Europe, Russia, Siberia, Alaska, Canada, America, Greenland and Iceland, through extremes of heat and cold. She was hit by a truck, nearly starved to death in the Alaskan wasteland, broke ribs in Iceland and her hip in Canada, chased by a naked man bearing a gun and another who almost chopped her ear off with an axe as he tried to hug her.
When she finally returned to her home town of Tenby in Wales, she hobbled over the finishing line on crutches suffering from stress fractures. She laughs at the fact that this latest Irish trip was almost scuppered when she ripped a toenail off by accident while vacuuming at home.
But, she says brightly, the physical is the easiest part of the human experience to control. "I very strongly believe that the toughest mountains are in the mind. The most wonderful thing in the world is to see a child smile or fall in love, the worst is to see someone sick or in trouble. Life is an adventure to be appreciated."
It is a tenet she has lived her own extraordinary life by. She first attracted attention sailing around the world with her first husband Colin Swale and daughter Eve. She gave birth to their son James on board.
In 1983, she sailed solo across the Atlantic on a 17ft-plywood boat. She has trekked 3,000 miles through Chile on horseback and ran in the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert -- twice.
She takes her trip to Ireland no less seriously than any of those mind-boggling feats. "I had wanted to include it on my round-the-world run but I couldn't so this is a promise kept to myself. I am so proud to be here." Her brothers Nicolas and Gerald still live in her native Askeaton, Co Limerick, as does a woman she refers to as "my mother, although she's not really my mother", family friend Marianne Griffin.
"Ireland is responsible for all the good things in my life," Rosie says fondly. "My grandmother would send me off on my bicycle or a donkey and tell me not to come back until I had something to write about."
The road has taught her many things, but mainly it has shown her that the "magic" of life is in the kindness of strangers. In her Irish run so far, those have included a garda called John who insisted on escorting her over a dangerously narrow piece of road in Wicklow and a hotel owner who insisted she stay the night with them when he spotted her bedding down in her cart outside.
She paused in Dublin yesterday to call in to Tom Dunne in his Newstalk radio show, to acknowledge the support and encouragement he gave her to bring her run to Ireland. No doubt she will find many more admirers on the road to Belfast and the Giant's Causeway, where she hopes to end this trip on her 63rd birthday, October 2.
It isn't surprising that people are touched by Rosie. Her effusive joie de vivre and her modesty at her amazing achievements are highly attractive. It is clear that her choices have led to great personal sacrifice -- she likens her five-year trip to going to war, but her "wonderful" family is terribly proud of her. Her grandson is particularly enamoured of his unusual granny: "He loves wolves, and he's keen on camping!"
As for retiring from the road, Rosie has no intention of it. She is inspired by the heartening letters she received from people who have read her book, Just a Little Run Around the World. Her website, www.rosiearoundtheworld.co.uk, reprints a letter from a urologist who had a patient come to him to have his prostate checked after reading her story. The patient turned out to have early stage cancer, easily treatable.
"If I had stayed at home knitting and gardening, I would not have got the message out," she says.
As for easing up, she just doesn't believe in it. "It's easing off that kills you," she says. "Every day in life should be treated as an act of survival."
Just a Little Run Around the World: 5 Years, 3 Packs of Wolves and 53 Pairs of Shoes by Rosie Swale-Pope is published by HarperCollins and available in bookstores now