It was a record-setting TCS London Marathon and a record fundraiser for the RFU Injured Players Foundation whose supporters raised £90,000 for the charity which helps catastrophically injured players and their families throughout their lives.

Making history, injured rugby player Gareth Rees and his team of four’s fundraising has reached are at £7,339k, as they completed the 26.2-mile race in the inaugural year of wheelchairs being pushed by up to four runners. His cousin Dr Darren Cooper; Wendy Woodhouse, a colleague from NFU Mutual; and former Stratford Rugby teammates Richard Pepperel and Flo Vialan provided the pushing power. The 37-year-old wanted to give back to the charity has supported him since a spinal cord injury paralysed him from the neck down in 2011 while he was playing rugby for Stratford-upon-Avon’s 1st XV.

“Being able to take part in the London marathon post injury was amazing,” he said. “It wasn’t easy because on top of the efforts of the pushers to get me round was the extra effort needed to get me into a position to compete: good health, hoist, chair, van rental, hotel."

“My team embodied the spirit of rugby, teamwork and dedication to get me round the 26.2 miles. Not only did they have to push as well as run it, but also spent a good deal of time trying to clear the way so we didn’t hit the back of the slower runners’ heels! Despite getting a ballot place in the wheelchair we decided to run and raise money for the IPF because of how fantastic they were for me and continue to be for newly injured players. We thought we would get around £2,000 at first, so to break £7,000 the morning after the marathon blew me away. I will never forget the day and all the support I was shown throughout the buildup, the race and crossing the line with the people I love, raising money for such a good cause.”

Darren Cooper having helped power his cousin around the course said: “As soon as crossed the line it was full on relief, it was emotional and  and everyone was very happy. Gareth did superbly well throughout in communicating with us. Obviously, we couldn’t plan for what to do, moving people out of the way, how long a shift you would take pushing and obviously hills came up and you’d swap with someone just before a hill and they’d laughingly say ‘ah thanks for that!’ Then the downhills weren’t necessarily as easy because you picked up pace and had to navigate and swerve. 

“After the water zone the road was completely wet, and the chair handled a bit differently because there was no grip. Then when we went past the Lucozade stand, the road was sticky and we had full on resistance – it was like being in a nightclub from days gone by. The atmosphere was amazing and made a big difference throughout. We had people handing us money which we tucked into Gareth’s hood as we were going along. It was brilliant in terms of the amount we raised, which we’re really happy with. We’re very happy with our time of five and a half hours. We said we’d finish by five pm and we finished bang on five, which is amazing.”

Gareth Rees and Team 600x400


Amy competing for IPF and dad

The day before competing in her wheelchair, 35-year-old Amy Griffiths was in the IPF hospitality at Twickenham watching the Red Roses beat Ireland. She was playing rugby for Northwich when a neck injury in 2015 saw the IPF support her and her wife Kelly throughout Amy’s time in hospital.

“They were fantastic and their help meant I didn’t have to worry about paying bills during six months in hospital,” said the now GB sledge hockey player.  “I was out playing sledge hockey in Canada with former Reading Sirens flanker Dani Czernuszka who’d already done the London Marathon in her wheelchair, and she was egging me on to sign up.  My dad Malcolm said it was a great challenge and persuaded me and, as he died last June, I knew I had to do it not just for the charity but for him.  The IPF are always there supporting players like me, and I wanted to give something back.”

Denver Rollings, was running at 59 having played rugby for 45 years as a No 8 Berry Hill and still playing for Ledbury. He said: “It’s just nice that people my age can put something back into the game. We’ve taken a lot out of the game – I’ve had some of the best friends, business associates, life experiences through rugby – so to be able to put something back via the IPF is an honour really. Hopefully I should hit £4000 today. It’s an experience! I’ve never done a marathon before and I never will again! Five weeks ago, my sciatic nerve became inflamed, so I haven’t been able to run or anything for five weeks. It was only a week ago that I decided to go for it!”

Lisa Cherry, from Swindon College Old Boys had an extra reason to run. “My uncle broke his neck in a rugby match when I was very much younger. At that time there was no support that he or we as a family were aware of, so he struggled on his own. When I started getting more involved in rugby and became a first aider, I started researching what to do if there was a serious injury. That’s when I came across the RFU Injured Players Foundation. They are so supportive and brilliant. They really are a rugby family on top of your own rugby family.”


Amy Griffiths 600x400

Jack was an inspiration

Ben Nightingale played rugby for Wimbledon and said: “The IPF support a lad from Wimbledon Rugby Club called Jack Fishwick who broke his neck playing for the club. This time last year my kids ran the mini marathon, and I thought I really fancied running the London marathon. A few days later an email arrived from the IPF saying applications open! I played rugby from the age of seven to when I was about 35. I’m not a runner, , so this was properly out of my comfort zone. I wanted to do it in under four hours, and I did it in 3:59:05! I also set myself a fundraising target of £3,000 and I’ve just looked and broken through £4,000 so pretty good. My daughter and family saw me at Cutty Sarka and a few other places as well, which gave me a massive boost and the crowd was unbelievable. I genuinely don’t think I’d have done it without them, especially the pace I needed. I turn 49 this year and I’m now hanging up my marathon boots as I don’t think it can get any better!”

Jack Fishwick, now a sports injury and rehab specialist, helped the IPF marathon team to prepare at a rugby training day. And was also inspiration for another runner. Liam Gilbert who said: “I know Jack as I’m from Salisbury Rugby Club as he joined the senior team when I was captain back in 2007/8 and we’ve remained friends ever since. I turn 40 this year and it was time to do some crazy challenges, the marathon being one. I was fortunate enough to be given a spot and then started fundraising. At the moment I’m just shy of £5,000 so going to have a little push and pull on the heart strings to get it up to £5,000. I missed the team training but wish I’d got the help from Jack rather than a few beers the other weekend! He’s been great and supportive, a lot of other friends of ours have run for the IPF it’s just such a great charity to be involved with. I probably played the best part of 400 odd senior games of rugby since I was 18 but what I’ve just done now feels like I’ve gone through the hardest 80 minutes of my life!”

Sam Jones “It was a big effort, but honestly the camaraderie out there was amazing. Seeing people running from the same charity and those who came to support along the way just gets you through. I’m a sports therapist and currently training to be a PE teacher as well, so it really is what I’m passionate about. I work with injured athletes a lot and I still do my sports therapy on the side. I was working in rugby clubs, so I’ve witnessed it first hand, what a bad injury can do to someone and their family. I’m currently teaching at Birkdale in Southport and am back teaching tomorrow and I’ve got a wear your own clothes day at school where they’ll all donate £1. So I’m definitely not done yet!”

Husband and wife runners, Caroline and John Moore both work in rugby, Caroline was Communications Manager for Northampton Saints and is now Media Manger for Exeter Chiefs Women and John is a physiotherapist.
Said Caroline: “John is 50 this week, so this is his idea of a birthday treat, which I have had to join in with! Rugby has always been really important in terms of my career and what I enjoy watching. Our daughter plays rugby in the U18s so rugby is a really big thing in our life. I work in PR and Media so I’m not shy, especially about asking for money for an amazing cause. We’re really chuffed with what we raised –we wanted to raise £5,000 so we’re really pleased to have raised around £5,600. I actually enjoyed it, high fives with all the kids, responding to people calling your name out because it’s on your vest. I thought ‘well I just need to get to the end and get the sponsorship money and be able to get the medal around my neck.’

John added: “We met at Loughborough and I worked with Northampton Saints and then the RFU and looked after lots of injured players, was trained in spinal injuries. Our daughter suffered a nasty shoulder injury last year which brought it all home – it’s nothing compared to spinal and brain injuries, but I think when we saw what the IPF does from minute one, such as taxis for families and all the way through to wheelchairs, career change and house alterations, I just think it’s fantastic. We heard from people from 20 years ago that we haven’t spoken to but they’re on Linkedin or Facebook or wherever and they’ve all been putting money in because they recognise it’s so powerful. I was desperate for Caz to run London, because I ran it 25 years ago and got 3:56. My mission was to beat that and I managed 3:40 this year.I ran it in my adidas rugby shorts and my Loughborough student rugby socks 25 years ago Then 23 years ago I ran it in a Northampton Saints St Bernard costume, which Caz made me do. She thought it would be a good idea for St Bernard to run the marathon along with Jon Sleightholme!”

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