We’ve recently come across an excellent blog published by Gareth Mate, who is originally from the Staffordshire Moorlands and currently living and working as a teacher at an International School in the Netherlands. Gareth’s site has the wonderful title “Thoughts and Stories from the Great Outdoors” and has some lovely accounts of trips and expeditions he has done around Europe, often family holidays with his Dutch wife and their children. The photography illustrating the site is pretty special too - have a look at garethmate.com to see more.
One part of Gareth’s site is devoted to a series profiling ‘Inspiring Individuals’ - we’ll hand over here to Gareth to introduce Paul’s story:
Inspiring Individuals: PAUL ELTON
Paul Elton is my first participant in my Inspiring Individuals series. In developing this series I wanted to highlight people I know or others I have come across, who go out of their way to make a difference. Breaking away from the norms of everyday life, in order to follow a dream or undertake a challenge or hobby, that shapes them and makes their purpose that little bit more meaningful or special.
I have known Paul for a large portion of my life. I’ve played football with him and went to school with him. Even despite life taking many twists and turns, which often result in people following a different path. I have always followed Paul, supported him and admired his positivity and his determination to achieve something good out of life.
He is a good guy. Humble and to the point. He loves his sport, both playing and watching and this has played a significant role in shaping the man he is today. Read on and find out more about this Inspiring Individual.
In the words of Paul himself…
The Lanky Runner
The Early days…
At school, I loved the sports. I lived for them. Football, Cricket, Athletics, Basketball. You name it, I tried it. Outside of school, you guessed it. I loved the sports, playing (attempting) for my little village Blythe Bridge at football on Sundays and I was pretty handy with a ball in hand on a cricket pitch during the summer. Give me a bat... That's another story!
Health and Well being
My parents were drilling a healthy lifestyle into me and I was grateful for their help. I started college and was enjoying a sports science course, I dreamt of becoming a Physical Education teacher or a Policeman. But things started to change.
My epilepsy that I'd been living with since my teenage years started to take control, my fits became frequent, especially during physical activity. After several enquiries, it was clear I wouldn't be allowed to join the police force due to my condition.
Maybe 2 or 3 times a week I was having seizures, sometimes more. Along with this, I had found a nightlife with college friends in bars and nightclubs until the early hours of the morning.
I was a no-nonsense centre-half for the college who was excited when we were told the local football scouts were at our next match. I remember the match, I was having a good game, received a pass from a teammate and from behind an opponent came clattering through the back of my right leg with his studs. I've never felt pain like it, after a long delay I carried on. I went down again in agony, I couldn't move, I was informed by my coach that I'd taken a hefty wacky to the knee and advised to go home via the train station. I couldn't even make the 10 min walk to the station, I phoned my dad in agony, he arrived and we were on our way to the hospital. The next morning I was coming to terms with the fact I had torn my anterior ligament and fractured my kneecap.
My course at college was over, a wheelchair was my mode of transport for the next month or two slowly followed by crutches. A long spell of physio and sitting in pubs feeling sorry for myself followed. I found beer, quantities of it, I started to smoke, why? I hated the smell, I knew it was and is still bad for you.
My early 20's? A blur, standing at bars followed by a takeaway most nights, living for all-day sessions watching the football. For some reason I thought this was the life, it was cool, I'm in the pubs, everyone thinks you're cool if you're a regular in a pub don't they?
I still recall a usual Saturday night uptown where I got chatting with this woman in a club who didn't really want to be there. I gave her my story and got no sympathy but... The following weekend there she was. In my local that she'd never set foot in before. This woman now becomes the girlfriend and after a year the proposal has taken place. This is followed by a house, I'm growing up at last!
We go by protocol and get married first in our mid-thirties, two years later she gives me the news that starts the change, you're going to be a father!! The was the news I needed to change my life full circle, I'd smoked my last cigarette, I said goodbye to the long hours in the pubs and took a long hard look at myself in the mirror. I need to be a responsible husband and father. How? Well. For a start, you could lose some of that 19 stone frame you're carrying Paul. Yeah. It'll be easy I said.
So I set off for a quick jaunt around the estate, a couple of miles a day will do and I'll be ok. Anyway, I set off and within 3/4 mins I'm gasping for air, hands on knees, struggling to even power walk my way home. This isn't going to work Paul, maybe a gym. Or swimming??? Bloody good idea!! The 5 lengths of the pool became 10, 15 and so on. I finally hit the magic mile in the pool without stopping, 63 lengths were hard but satisfying. The mileage on the treadmill starts to increase, this rowing machine in the gym is testing but a good challenge.
One day a swim, next day the gym, sometimes both... And maybe throwing in some circuit training with the classes that I used to snigger at. The arrow on the Scales wasn't going as far round as usual… 19 stone was now 14!! I'm 6 ft 5in so was happy with that!
I heard about this thing called 'parkrun' and had been informed there was one nearby, just register online and it's free... So I did. By now the epileptic fits were becoming a rarity... I was looking after myself, eating properly, sleeping properly. It was working and I eagerly anticipated my first parkrun. Now, this was the best decision I'd ever made, running outside on the paths is a different ballgame to the treadmills. Parkrun had started to turn me into a confident runner.
I'd recommend parkrun to anyone remotely interested in getting fit and wanting that healthy lifestyle. There are hundreds scattered across the UK and more across Europe, South Africa, Australia and the USA. Through this Saturday morning addiction, I made friends who start to recommend running clubs, you'd be good with that stride of yours Paul they say. After some thinking, I get in touch with an old friend who runs for Blythe Bridge Running Club.
So I join this club and I find there are all sorts of road races and distances available out there. Tempting! It's not long (probably within 4 weeks of joining) that I've booked my first race as a club runner! The Stone 10k... I'm nervous but excited.
After club night runs on my own. I try this 10k race out. 53 minutes and 11 seconds. I was extremely happy with that and a medal around the neck made it more satisfying. More running, more club nights, the runs became longer, the pace was faster... What do I do then? Book a marathon? Why not, my local Potteries Marathon... a marathon of many expressions. Fatigue and pain made for an uncomfortable journey culminating in hobbling over the line with an injury to the calf, lessons were learnt that day on how to prepare and look after the body properly.
But I ran a marathon!
Looking back at the marathon, the pain, the support, I knew then I had the running bug!
Luckily the calf healed quickly and it wasn't long until I was back at the club putting the mileage in.. And booking more 10ks and half marathon races. If it had a medal at the end. I booked it!! I put in the hill work, the long Sunday run was a must!
I eagerly awaited the start of the new running season and it proved to be an interesting one... I'm in the London marathon thanks to my club ballot! The training was bang on schedule, I stick to the plan (even the dark, wet mornings before work didn't deter me). A couple of half marathons help me along the way and London is 4 weeks away and.. BANG!. I'm on a physio table after dislodging a disc in the lower part of my spine whilst at work.
Part of the warm-up for London was to run the Manchester Marathon but I had to pull out. The physio worked hard and worked wonders, 10 days before London she gave me the all clear. Game on! Bags packed, myself and my wife and two little girls set off in anticipation and soon arrive in the capital.
The next 48 hrs were and still are the best feelings (apart from the birth of my children obviously) that I've experienced. I ran for the Parkinson’s UK charity as it's very close to me and managed to raise just under £3,000 as I completed the course in just over 4 hours. From here on the confidence rose with every race, the pace gathered more and more, my original 10K best was now down to 42:34, my half marathon PB is 1hr 31mins.
I now know where I am with my running, I'm smiling, I'm in a happy place and it's a great place. My club has just begun a ‘Couch to 5K’ programme and it's great to watch the newcomers eagerly await the next session. The ones that didn't believe are now believing.
You can dream folks, so do it with a positive attitude, smile, listen to the body at the same time. Enjoy the other mad people running alongside you. They are your running family and boy I've made some fantastic friends along the way. That's enough waffling on from me, I've got to get my parkrun top ready for the morning, three more and I've completed 100.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my story!
Blythe Bridge Running Club
Established in 1983
Based in Blythe Bridge, Staffordshire.
Catering for all levels of fitness and all types of runner.
Parkrun organise free weekly timed runs all over the world. All runs are held in pleasant parkland on weekend mornings. Runs are open to all ages and abilities.
And a final word from Gareth:
...for your inspiring and heartfelt words. Knowing about and following Paul’s journey has been really inspiring to me and that has been the main intention of sharing some of his thoughts and motivating words. I guess, in the nicest possible way, an Average Joe going above and beyond the norm to make an impact and inspire others, to do something similar.
In my opinion, Paul epitomizes the word ‘change’ and I feel he has done this in a really humble and positive way. Without glorifying the situation and over-inflating the ego. He is a great example and a role model, who continues to work hard and something he enjoys, bringing many positive moments in his things life. Of course, these journeys are not easy and putting words into actions is often the hard part, but he has done it and continues to do so with each week that passes.
Paul is an ‘inspiring individual’ and someone who has brought about a change in his life, by not only developing his own health and well-being but also to others around him. I’m sure we will all wish him well as he continues to push himself to greater things.
Good Luck to the Lanky Runner.