Aly Dixon will have Sunderland in her heart when she pounds the streets of Rio tomorrow – all 26 miles, 385 yards of it, writes Roy Kelly.
The pride of Wearside will be taking part in one of the greatest Olympic events, the women’s marathon.
Dixon, the first British girl home at the Virgin London Marathon in April, knows she’s up against it tomorrow when she lines up against the world’s distance greats.
But the 37-year-old who finishes her races with a ‘Borini’ celebration will be inspired by thoughts of her home city.
“I’m born and bred Sunderland and very proud of where I come from,” she told the Echo.
“I’ll have Sunderland in my heart, it’s where I grew up and it’s where I still live.
“I say to people remember your roots, wherever you go in life, no matter how high you go, remember where you came from.
“This is where I was brought up, it’s the place that’s inspired me, encouraged me and I’ll never forget that.
“I think the most I’ve ever been away from home is 10 weeks when I was at the worlds in 2011.
“I love the place.
“Sunderland has a lot to offer, a lot of people don’t realise how beautiful it is. There is some stunning scenery along the coast and around Penshaw.
“There is a lot in Sunderland, leisure facilities, talent and a lot of good people!
“They love to see one of their own doing well and the support I get off the locals is amazing.”
For all her love of everything with an SR postcode, she now faces the task of getting to grips with a different environment.
Dixon will be leaving the start line at Sambódromo tomorrow at 1.30pm and arriving at the finish in the Olympic Stadium some two and a half hours later.
Simply to reach the Games has been an achievement in itself and the Sunderland Stroller is not getting carried away with what to expect in Rio.
“I’m being realistic,” she explained. “I’m not saying I’m going there chasing medals, you never say never, but that’s not realistic.
“For me, top 10 will be absolutely out of this world.
“Looking at the start list top 20 would be a good, realistic goal.
“Top 15 would be very good and ultimately the top 10, that would be something else.”
Dixon comes from a family of runners - she started in the sport when doing fun runs at the events dad, David, was competing at and doing very well in.
“Dad put a lot of graft in and he got a 2:21 and was first reserve for England,” she said.
“He’s always ribbing me saying that I haven’t bettered his PB!
“But if I beat it I’d be one of the best in the world [2:15:25 is the women’s world record, held by Paula Radcliffe].
“There is a very different level between men and women, so I always rib him to say he’s never ran for Great Britain.”
Family means everything to Aly who always has her loved ones there to support her at races.
And there will be two men in her thoughts when she’s pounding the Brazilian streets.
“We lost my uncle Derek last September, he was a big runner, and my granda in November, he was probably my number one fan,” she said.
“I was sorry they never got the chance to experience this.
“My uncle never knew I’d got the qualifying time, he’d passed away before then.
“Derek was a 2:33 marathon runner himself and followed me everywhere and was proud of everything I’d done.
“I know they will be there and if it does get tough they’ll be giving me a kick up the backside and tell me to get a move on.
“Sometimes granda would sometimes say ‘that was rubbish’ and ‘what did you let her beat you for?’ and that kind of stuff but I always knew he was proud of me.
“They will help spur me on”