"I’m doing the December Daily Dash in memory of Mum and Dad"

Jackie and Mark and their two children

Do something different this Christmas by signing up for the December Daily Dash – a commitment to run, walk or jog three miles every single day throughout December!

The concept, dreamt up by husband and wife team Jackie and Mark Smith, was started three years ago to help raise funds for Sue Ryder, who cared for Jackie’s Dad Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice in Gloucestershire.

“My Mum and Dad moved to Cheltenham from the south coast in 2009 and they loved Cheltenham life; there are so many good festivals, shops and restaurants to explore,” Jackie recalls. “Sadly, two years later, my Mum developed ovarian cancer and, despite going into remission for a year following initial treatment, it recurred in 2013 and she passed away in October. 

“My Dad looked after her at home until the end and was totally devastated when she died,” she continues. They had been married for over 40 years and my Mum had been the epitome of health; she’d never had a day off work, and was always full of life and energy. 

“In spite of his love for the rest of his family, his career, golf and the church, he was incredibly sad without Mum around and life was not the same for him at all. 

“About six months after Mum's death, Dad was admitted to hospital with chest pains, which had been recurring for some time. He had suffered a heart attack back when he was 40 so the doctors had always thought the pain was heart related but, following a chest X-ray, they realised that he had a tumour in a little-known gland in his chest called the thymus gland. 

“He was diagnosed with cancer, which we found out had already spread to his lungs. We couldn't believe it so soon after losing Mum.” 

“An amazingly caring environment”

“My sister is a doctor at Cheltenham General Hospital who knows Consultant in Palliative Medicine Paul Perkins, who also works for Sue Ryder. Mum and Dad had met Paul when Mum was suffering with cancer so, after she died, he was aware of Dad's loss,” Jackie continues. 

“In December 2015, when poor Dad was struggling to live on his own – and deal not only with the loss of my Mum, but also his diagnosis and pain – Paul arranged for him to be admitted to Leckhampton Court Hospice. “The relief he felt to be in such an amazingly caring environment, with such great facilities and views out onto the beautiful Cotswold countryside, was amazing,” she says. 

“I remember him telling me how much he appreciated the mugs of hot chocolate that the nurses made him before bed, and how well looked after he felt.” 

As the cancer spread to his spine, he lost the use of hands, and his mobility and pain worsened, Jackie explains that staff cared for her Dad with dignity and genuine care. “Even though he was only in the hospice for a few weeks, just the fact that he had someone there caring for him while he was grieving for Mum was a great comfort to him (and us); it made such a huge difference. “Even after Dad moved out of Leckhampton and into a private nursing home, where he later died, Paul phoned every day to see how he was doing,” she adds. 

The challenge

“After losing both my parents so close together, I really wanted to try and find something positive out of an incredibly sad situation,” Jackie says. 

“Giving something back to Sue Ryder seemed like the perfect way to do this.” The December Daily Dash has 119 runners already signed up for the 2017 challenge, with just under a week to go, and Jackie would dearly like more runners to pick up the baton and help raise funds for Leckhampton Court. 

“So far we have people in Berkshire, Bath, Swindon, London, Wales, Scotland and even Copenhagen and Canada committing to the December Daily Dash, but I would really like to see more people get behind it,” she adds. In the first year of the December Daily Dash, Jackie and Mark were joined by 13 runners who, between them, covered 1,200 miles. In 2016, this snowballed to 54 friends and family from across the country – and as far afield as Sydney, Australia – lacing up their trainers to take part, and running the equivalent of 190 marathons. So far the charity Dashers have raised over £6,500 for Sue Ryder. When most of us will be dashing around doing our last minute Christmas shopping the December Daily Dash crew will be wrapping up in their thermals to run three miles around their local neighbourhood every single day during December, whatever the weather, and then posting their running routes, times, videos and selfies on the group’s community Facebook page. 

“Sue Ryder offered my Dad a haven at a bleak time”

“Three miles might not seem a huge distance to tackle, but when you consider that we will be doing this every day, in possibly freezing temperatures, whilst everyone else is busy drinking prosecco and enjoying the festive season, you can see we have a challenge on our hands! “ Jackie laughs. 

“The Dash is tough but totally achievable, and the camaraderie along the way is hard to beat, so I’d encourage many more people to get involved,” she continues. “I am not a runner; several of our participants have run marathons or done Ironmans but I definitely haven't and running three miles a day is hard for me! If I can do this anyone can. 

“Leckhampton Court Hospice offered my Dad a haven at a very bleak time, and looked after him with care and dignity, and for that we will always be grateful,” Jackie says. “We wanted to raise money for them, and other Sue Ryder care centres across the country, so we can help them provide more of this care to more families who need this support.”