Devoted dad will push disabled daughter Alanna in special running chair for Dublin Marathon
A DEVOTED father, who will push his disabled daughter in a special running chair, is one of 20,000 people gearing up to run in the Dublin Marathon.
Keith Russell (34), from Navan, Co Meath, hopes to raise €60,000 for charity as he pushes his seven-year-old daughter Alanna along the gruelling 26-mile course.
Alanna, who has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, does not have the use of her arms or legs and cannot talk.
She was born prematurely at 31 weeks by emergency caesarean section, after her twin Isabelle died.
Her dad is determined Alanna will become the youngest participant in this year's event tomorrow.
"Although Alanna cannot talk, we know that she loves when we run together," he said.
"She comes into her own and really gets a buzz from it.
"It all started when she was younger and couldn't sleep, I'd walk her along the streets in her buggy, sometimes in the middle of the night. It relaxed her when she was anxious, upset or couldn't sleep. That developed into running and we've gone on to do parkruns, but nothing like a marathon."
Mr Russell is hoping to raise money for Rehab's The Meadows Children's Respite Centre, in Navan. The centre is a RehabCare service for children with a range of disabilities and provides much-needed respite for their families.
Almost four decades ago, the Dublin Marathon was akin to a disorganised "war zone", attracting fewer than 2,000 for the 1980 inaugural event. However, it is now the fifth-biggest marathon in Europe.
It was the brainchild of Noel Carroll, the former European 880-yard record holder, who died in 1998.
Along with its growth has come high-precision organisation. This year, friends and family will be able to track runners online, while live streams of the race will be hosted on the website.
Some 40,000 bottles of water will be available for runners, more than 1,000 volunteers will be on hand and 372 toilets will be available along the route.
Mary Nolan Hickey (65) was among the runners who took part in 1980 and she is the only female runner to take part for 37 consecutive years.
"The first marathon was like going into a war zone," said Ms Hickey, from Arklow, Co Wicklow. "I had been doing track and field for 12 years beforehand and a marathon hadn't even been thought of when I was running. There were 40 women running the first year and less than 2,000 people.
"There were no schedules, no Facebook information, it was mostly athletic clubs and it was disorganised.
"But back then it wasn't mass participation and it was great, but scary because I hadn't done more than an 18-miler before.
"I was 27 and I didn't know what would happen beyond 18 miles, but it went well and I got round in three hours, 38 minutes."
In 1988, Mary had to ask to use toilets in houses along the way because she was heavily pregnant and had to come up with a contingency plan.
"It was my slowest time - six-and-a-quarter hours - but I didn't want to not compete," she added.