Since launching our Heroes of Running Awards 2010 (in association with Aviva) last month, we’ve received many nominations for people who’ve achieved amazing running feats, and used the sport as a force of change in their own and others’ lives.
Now it's time to reveal the final shortlist for our most prestigious award - the Jane Tomlinson Inspiration Award - as submitted for by you, the reader.
All four of the individuals below have had an extraordinary impact on the running community. Like the award's namesake - Jane Tomlinson - our 2010 nominees' seemingly boundless willpower, selflessness and sporting talent has marked them out, while their sheer grit and determination to overcome the odds has seen all of them reach astonishing running heights.
Major Phil Packer
On February 19 2008 Major Phil Packer was injured in a rocket attack while on operational duty in Basra, Iraq. He suffered a bruised heart, damage to his ribs and chest, the loss of the motor and sensory use of his legs, and was told he would never walk again.
And yet barely fourteen months later on April 26 2009, he found himself standing on the start line of the Flora London Marathon - having defied both the predictions and orders of his doctors - ready to fulfil his pledge to raise £1m for military charity Help The Heroes.
Travelling just over two miles per day Packer, 37, completed the course on crutches in 13 days. He says: "The greatest realisation I've had doing the marathon is that regardless of what happens to you in life, there are still major goals you can set yourself, and major achievements to be made. My injury is not a disability to me any more. It's all about what I can do, not about what I can't do. That feeling is very strong."
Jackson Williams, 28, ran his first ultra - back home to Norwich from London - at the age of 17 after being inspired by a book on ultra running. A year later he ran 350 miles from Scotland to his home town, but a career in boxing beckoned and it wasn't until his early retirement after a defeat by Amir Khan in 2006 and he took up a career as a sports science lecturer, that he decided to focus his sole attention on running and to put his talents to good use along the way.
In 2007 he ran 3086 miles in 95 days across America from LA to New York City in aid of the Bryan Gunn Leukaemia Appeal; last year he ran 26 marathons in 26 days on a treadmill for Unicef; on March 18 this year he ran 120 miles in 24 hours from Norwich to London in aid of Sport Relief, and this summer he will again test his endurance to the limit on behalf of Unicef while attempting to run barefoot across Australia.
When Kirste Snellgrove was diagnosed with breast cancer, the first thing she asked was, “Can I still run?” The oncologist responded decisively: “No.” Kirste had other ideas. Even exhausted by chemotherapy and at her lowest ebb, the 41-year-old refused to stand still. Instead, she wrapped a bandana around her balding head and forced herself to jog around the block.
Like most of us, Kirste had only started running to shift unwanted pounds. Her diagnosis changed all that: running became both more physically draining, and more mentally uplifting. Kirste says that lacing up her trainers was the best boost she could have received. It paid off when Kirste defied all expectations to run the London Marathon every year since 2006.
She ran last year’s race four months after the doctors found a second tumour in her lung, saying with characteristic spirit: “Cancer has picked the wrong person with me – I’m never going to stop.”
Blind since his early twenties, for 74-year-old Bill Gulliver running is a source of continued hope and renewed self-esteem. He has more than 100 marathons to his name, and even a diagnosis of chronic leukaemia has not stopped him in his tracks. "I can no longer run," he said before the Reading Half-Marathon 2009. "So I shall walk."
Bill finished the 13-miler in just under four hours, leaning heavily on his team of sighted guides after every arduous step. He has now turned his attention towards mentoring the next generation of runners, offering free nutritional and coaching advice to anyone who cares enough to give it a go.
"There are many thousands of would-be runners, who are just frightened to take the first step," Bill says. "I try to teach them to be really aware of their environment and their body's potential. I want to always be a part of the running community."
Aviva is proud to be working again with Runner's World and sponsoring the Heroes of Running Awards, to honour those individuals who continue to make a difference through their running. There are six categories that reward outstanding achievement at every level of the sport, and the 2010 awards are once again set to showcase some of the best running talent, both on and off the track, that the UK has to offer.
Aviva has been proud to be the number one sponsor of UK Athletics (UKA) since 1999 and is committed to developing the sport at every level from the playground to the podium. Working with UKA this year, we'll stage six world-class athletics events on home soil, support the Aviva GB and NI junior, senior and disability teams as they prepare for all major events and championships, and through the Aviva UKA Academy aim by 2012 to give every child in the UK the opportunity to get involved in athletics.
We look forward to celebrating another great year of athletics.