Rio runner Aly Dixon has gone back to school to launch a charity drive in aid of a hospice on Wearside.
Aly put pupils at Thornhill School in the city through their paces as they become the first to take part in the Run to Rio campaign – where groups and individuals are being asked to “buy” and complete marathons and add their tally to the 5,912 miles from Sunderland to Rio.
Pupils from houses within Thornhill will be forming teams of 26 pupils with each team member running a mile each to complete the marathon distance.
The winning team will be the fastest to complete the full 26 miles.
Aly, set to compete in the marathon in this summer’s Olympics in Brazil, was joined by her former PE teacher, Julie Richardson, now assistant head teacher at Thornhill, and Sunderland Stroller Tony Allen, who has organised the campaign.
Mrs Richardson, who is now assistant headteacher at Thornhill, also said sorry to the Sunderland Stroller for putting her on the reserve list for the school’s cross country team when she was a pupil there.
I never showed much talent running at school but I was always the first to volunteer and I had a die-hard attitude.Aly Dixon
“Apologies to Aly now, but I’d like to think that this decision spurred Aly on,” said Mrs Richardson.
“It’s a real tribute to her incredible tenacity and determination that she’s got to be where she is now, an Olympian.
“Aly is an inspirational role model to our Thornhill pupils showing just what can be achieved from humble beginnings on our school track and fields. “
Aly led several children out onto the school fields as they became the first to take part in the competition.
Money raised will go to St Benedict’s Hospice in Ryhope, Sunderland, and Marie Curie Cancer Care.
“I still hold a grudge for not being picked for the cross country team,” joked Aly.
“Actually I think it just spurred me on. I’m the kind of person who will go out of my way to prove people wrong.
“I never showed much talent running at school but I was always the first to volunteer and I had a die-hard attitude.
“It was lovely to meet all the kids and run with them.
“My message to them was to not let other people put limits on you and to not put limits on themselves – have a dream and do everything you can to achieve it.
“This charity campaign is quite special and a cause close to my heart as both my grandfather and younger cousin were helped by St Benedict’s and Marie Curie.”
Catrina Flynn, fundraising manager at the hospice, said: “We’re so grateful to Aly and Tony for helping to raise funds towards the hospice.
“I have no doubts that they’ll hit their 5,912 mile target and more and we wish Aly the best of luck in her Olympic challenge.”
Charlotte Campbell, community fundraiser at Marie Curie, said: “It’s fantastic to see so many people getting behind Aly and the Run to Rio challenge.
“Our Marie Curie nurses are absolutely thrilled that money raised will be going towards supporting Marie Curie services in Sunderland.
“We’ll all be tuning in and cheering Aly on in Rio.”