Friends' response to keep Hickey's run unbroken embodies true marathon spirit
Tony Hickey will compete in the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon tomorrow, continuing his 38-year unbroken participation in the great event since it started in 1980. But for the first time, the 66-year-old Tinahely native won't actually be running.
Tony insists the marathon is not even his natural race, that five to 10k was his prime distance in his days as a club runner initially, yet he almost broke the magic three hours in 1981 when he clocked 3:04.
When he and Dublin made their debut there were only 2,000 entrants and just 40 women.
What stood out? "The great atmosphere and the fact that it was the year after the Pope's visit. There were still banners up around the place," recalls Hickey, who will have a very different view tomorrow.
At the start of June he was suddenly diagnosed with three brain tumours and has already had his first bout of chemo and radium therapy.
Last week some of his friends suggested it didn't have to force him to break his unbroken Dublin streak. He already had a race number and, when he agreed, they rallied around and his girlfriend Jill managed to secure a wheelchair.
Tony went to see his specialist on Tuesday and got the green light to participate. "Well, sort of," he chuckles."They think I'm mad!"
His ex-wife Mary Nolan-Hickey, the only woman to complete all previous Dublin marathons will, as usual, bring a bus-load of runners and supporters from Arklow and was hoping to do 4:10 to 4:15.
But she has shelved her own race ambitions at the 11th hour, happy to join Tommy Godkin, Charles Fleming, Nigel Brown and Liam Murphy in the team of Tony's friends who will push him around the course.
That same indefatigable spirit and running kinship will doubtlessly help many more of tomorrow's 20,000 participants to hobble across the finish line.
At the head of the race will be the elite runners, vying for winners' cheques of €10,000 from a total prize-fund of €120,000.
Ethiopia's Asefa Bekele, a 2:14 man who has placed second and third before, is back trying to win it.
Benard Rotich, who won Belfast in May in 2:16.04, is also in the mix along with several more Kenyans like Freddy Sittuk and Peter Wangari.
Nataliya Lehonkova, who won Dublin in 2015 in 2:31, is tipped for the women's title. She will be challenged by fellow Ukrainian Viktoriya Khapilin and a group of Ethiopians and Kenyans, including Ashu Kasim Megertu who has run 2:30.
The race doubles up as the National Championships and Sergiu Ciobanu (Clonliffe) and Laura Graham (Mourne Runners) will defend their titles.
Ciobanu won with 2:17.40 in 2016. His Clonliffe team-mate Stephen Scullion ran 2:17.59 in London this year and Gary O'Hanlon, Tomas Fitzpatrick, Eoin Callaghan and Dan Mansfield could also be in contention.
Graham, who does a lot of training on a treadmill in her home, has knocked another five minutes off her personal best, which is now 2:37.05.