Worthing running club rallies to raise charity funds in memory of team member’s husband

When Sue Acaster goes out for a run in Worthing, she slips on her headphones and puts on the playlist compiled for her by her late husband Stuart.

Featuring some of their favourite dance tracks from holidays in Ibiza, as well as songs by Neil Young and Paul McCartney, it was put together by Stuart in his last few months before his death in August, aged 54, after four years of living with Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

And while it sometimes makes her cry, it gives Sue extra motivation to put on her trainers and get out of the house.

Running has been her solace during Stuart’s illness and since he passed away but thanks to the support of her running club, Run Academy Worthing.

The 54-year-old medical rep said: “The people at the running club are just amazing. I don’t know what I would do without them, they are all really supportive.”

After the lockdown stopped its 110 members meeting up in large groups, team members have continue to run together in small ‘bubbles’,

And while the pandemic put a stop to their nights outs, the socialising carried on thanks to weekly zoom quizzes.

Now the club has rallied to help Sue raise more than £1,500 for the Motor Neurone Disease Association in Stuart’s memory.

Around 20 runners are taking part in the charity’s ‘5,000 mile challenge’ – with each mile representing a person with the disease in the UK today.

The club members are hoping to cover 1,500 miles in total to contribute to the challenge, whether by running, walking, swimming, cycling or even horse riding.

Sue said she was surprised at how many people volunteered to get involved. “I felt quite humbled,” she said.

To mark the start of the five-week challenge on September 13, the team met on Worthing seafront for a photo in their MND t-shirts. It was an emotional moment for Sue, who said: “I was happy and sad at the same time.”

Sue hopes the challenge will help raise awareness of the rare condition, which affects the brain and nerves and currently has no cure.

She said it was ‘quite a shock’ when Stuart was diagnosed, aged 50, as he was a ‘really active man’ who made cabinets and other pieces of furniture.

Watching his condition deteriorate over the years was difficult. “Any death is really sad,” Sue said. “But watching someone you love go from being a cabinet maker, to someone who in the last couple of weeks of his life was in bed, only being able to blink.”

Despite becoming increasingly weak, Stuart – who travelled all over the world with Sue in the 17 years they were together, visiting countries including Cambodia, India and Thailand – still insisted the pair go on holiday, whether it meant hiring a specially-adapted van or going in a wheelchair.

“A lot of people give up but Stuart was determined to go places,” Sue said. “We just had to adapt and do things slightly differently.”

The couple had planned to go on a cruise together in March, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Sue said the lockdown made things harder for Stuart, as health professionals could no longer visit him at home and he could not see his friends.

“I think it had a detrimental effect on his anxiety levels and mental health, like it has a lot of people,” she said.

He passed away with Sue by his side, alongside his mother and their cat.

Sue is now hoping to start a blog to help other people who have been diagnosed with MND and their loved ones navigate their way forward.

Having already raised £7,600 for the MND association and completed 18 challenges in 2018, she will continue to run in his memory.

“Stuart always encouraged me to keep on running even on the darkest days and had met many Run Academy members,” she said.

To find out more about the Mission 5000 fundraising challenge or get involved, visit www.mndassociation.org

To support Sue direct via any donations, please visit her JustGiving Page.

This article originally ran in the Worthing Herald in September 2020.