“I wanted to do something to challenge myself”

Posted: Friday 31 March 2023
Emma and Jan in Macular Society t-shirts

A grandmother of four with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) will be taking on her first-ever marathon this month, at the age of 70.

Jan was diagnosed with dry AMD ten years ago and in 2022 set herself the challenge of running the London Marathon, joined by her daughter, Emma.

Jan, who is one of six taking on the challenge in support of the Macular Society, has taken the tough training schedule in her stride, joining her local gym and swimming regularly to build her fitness.

“It’s going to be tough but I’m up for the challenge,” she said, looking ahead to the April event. “My running ability is terrible but I am doing quite a lot of training. I’m getting around with more of a shuffle than a jog but I am really committed and determined to keep going each week!

“I wanted to do something to challenge myself. The Macular Society is such a great thing supporting people, relying on funding and volunteers. I myself might need that help one day so I thought it would be something good for me to aim for and raise awareness of the charity.”

Talking about her diagnosis and how she has adapted to her sight loss, Jan said: “It was fear of the unknown, I didn’t know how this was going to develop or how I would cope, how I would adapt at the beginning. But, once you know what’s happening, you can find a way of dealing with it.

“I’ve always had good support from my family and friends and the important thing was talking about it, trying to adapt. Giving up driving and losing that independence was difficult but then I am much fitter because I walk a lot more now!”

Jan will be supported by her daughter Emma who has run the 26.2 mile race in the past.

Jan said: “Emma’s done it before and isn’t out to beat any records,” she said. “It will be great to do it with me so we’re looking forward to it.”

Emma admitted it will be an emotional occasion.

She said: “I’ve done a few marathons before but this will be the most special one for me and I’m a little bit emotional thinking about it. It’s going to be amazing to do this together and I can’t wait. We both feel so lucky to be able to do it together.

“Sight loss has really affected mum’s life but she doesn’t complain about it, she looks on the bright side and is grateful for everything that she has got. It’s not been nice to see. I wish there was something to fix her eyesight or stop it from getting worse. We know there isn’t anything right now and it feels so unfair.”

Emma, a 43-year-old NHS worker, said she is now much more aware of AMD and is more conscious of eye health both for her and her young family.

She said: “It’s a scary thought to think this might happen to my own daughter but I really hope all the research we’re seeing will come off and a treatment or cure will be found by the time she is around my mum’s age if she is in the same situation.

“It’s awful mum and many others have to live with this. I just really hope something can be done to make people’s lives better but so I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported us and the Macular Society. The more we can do to increase awareness of AMD it, and the importance of looking after our eyes, the better.”

Another runner who will be supporting the Macular Society at this year’s event will be Jonathan who was diagnosed with Stargardt Macular Degeneration as a child.

Jonathan has never let his condition stop him from running, taking on his first London Marathon in 2017 and run four others since. However, this year will be the first time that he’ll take on the challenge for a cause close to his heart.

He said: “I’ve run for organisations in the past but that was to help other people I have known. This year I wanted to run for a charity which is going to help me and people like me. Whilst I was lucky enough to secure a ballot place, the Macular Society was an obvious choice for me!" 

“I love the challenge and the amazing experience of running in the world's greatest marathon, let alone making Sir Mo feel a little nervous when he sees my name on the competitors list!” Jonathan joked. "Every year I say never again and every year I'm one of the first to enter the ballot!

Jonathan will have a guide runner called Maddie to help keep him safe and on track around the course. 

He said: “Whilst I can see shapes and objects around me, I don't necessarily know what they are. This is where Maddie comes in because she provides me with an audio commentary of what's in front of me, particularly potential obstacles like speed humps, TV camera crews filming in the middle of the road and most importantly where the water stations are and grabbing a bottle of water for me. Unlike some guide runners, she's not attached to me in any way and just runs by my side and slightly in front of me so that I can follow her if the situation requires us to run in single file for a while".

He concluded "I think Maddie has got the hardest job as not only does she have to run a marathon but she's also got to talk to me at the same time!"

Best of luck to all the runners taking part in the 2023 London Marathon!

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Have you been inspired to fundraise for the Macular Society? From taking part in a major sporting event to organising your own event, you can help Beat Macular Disease. Our community fundraising team is here to support you all the way - email community@macularsociety.org or phone 01264 560 222.