Sam Perkins completes one more marathon dream in Leeds

41-year-old triathlete Sam Perkins who is living with motor neurone disease successfully finished the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon after a buckled wheel cut short London attempt three weeks earlier

sam-perkins-leeds-marathon-chrissie-wellington

An emotional Sam Perkins from East Leake in Leicestershire swapped tears of frustration for those of happiness after achieving his dream of completing one more marathon in the inaugural Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon on Sunday.

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Sam, 41, is living with motor neurone disease and is fully reliant on a ventilator to breathe, but supported by a team of four – including four-time Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington – he was pushed around the hilly course in West Yorkshire in a remarkably fast time of four hours and 10 minutes.

“It was an absolutely phenomenal event with an amazing team and I’m delighted to have made my dream come true,” said Sam, proudly sporting his medal at the finish line in Headingley Rugby Stadium where Rob Burrow, who is also living with MND, played rugby league for Leeds Rhinos.

Change of plans 

While the day was a successful one, the build-up had not been without drama and Sam and his team were grateful to the organisers, Run For All, for a late entry to the Leeds event after they’d been forced to cut short the TCS London Marathon three weeks earlier.

All had been running smoothly in the capital until a puncture and then buckled wheel on Sam’s wheelchair at mile-14 made it unsafe to complete the full distance.

Not to be denied – and while Sam’s health still allowed him to take part (there is currently no cure for MND) – the opportunity to return in Leeds was too good to refuse.

It was also fitting that the focus of the event – named after former Great Britain rugby league international Burrow – was to raise funds and awareness about motor neurone disease.

Burrow was also pushed around the course, and eventually carried over the line, by former team-mate and close friend Kevin Sinfield whose idea it had been to create a first marathon in Leeds for two decades.

More than 12,500 took part and having started a minute ahead of Sam and his team, Rob and Kevin finished just a minute ahead, too.

Sam added: “The pain of London has gone away. No puncture, no buckled wheels. I just want to say a massive thank you to everybody who helped to make this happen: my family, the runners, my wife, my carers, Rob and just everyone.”

While the course presented different challenges to London, including far more ascent and descent, additional measures were taken – such as switching to ‘puncture-proof’ tyres and carrying a spare wheel – to mitigate the risk of another mechanical incident derailing the attempt.

Sam said his highlight was the final few miles into Headingley approaching the finish at the stadium. He added: “The crowd support and the sense of knowing that we’d done it was just incredible.”

Ironman-world-champ support crew

Chrissie, who had also been part of the team in London alongside Sam’s live-in carer Frank McGowan and former triathlon team-mate Steph Cobb, returned to push Sam once again.

She said: “I’m absolutely elated. I don’t think there is an emotion that describes it and I’ve crossed many finish lines. I haven’t really got the words to describe what it feels like to have achieved this, to have enabled Sam to realise his dream and to do it with such a phenomenal team.”

Speaking about being involved in the same event as Burrow and Sinfield, with the teams running almost side-by-side for some of the 26.2 miles, she added:

“It was incredibly special to be on the same racecourse as them today and have a race that is dedicated to raising awareness and funds for motor neurone disease. Then to cross the finish line almost together was really timely and I hope this focuses attention on raising money for a much-needed cause.

“I’ve been so fortunate to have the opportunity to run a number of marathons all over the world and this has to be one of the best I’ve ever done. The course wasn’t flat, but if you want phenomenal crowds, great support, great organisation and amazing views, Leeds ticks all those boxes.

“It was a wonderful event to be a part of and I’m glad we could achieve our marathon dream here.”

How to donate

Formerly a keen Ironman triathlete, Sam had MND diagnosed in 2019 after suffering shortness of breath and being admitted to hospital with pneumonia. His condition regressed and left him relying on a ventilator to breathe. He lost all movement in the months that followed.

Shortly after receiving the diagnosis, Sam and wife Emma launched the charity Stand Against MND to raise funds into finding a cure.

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To date the charity has raised more than £170,000, including more than £18,000 from his ‘One More Marathon’ project that was completed in Leeds. Donations are much-welcomed at justgiving.com/onemoremarathon

What is Motor Neurone Disease?

Motor neurone disease (MND) is a degenerative neurological condition that attacks the nerves that control movement (motor neurones). It leads to muscle weakness, twitches, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing.

While rare, life expectancy after diagnosis is one to five years. There are about 5,000 people with MND in the UK and about 1,100 people are diagnosed every year. There is currently no cure.