Challenge in memory of ‘marathon man’

Runners Dave Christie, Alison and Matt Reilly, and Bernadette Mossman, with Dementia Forward's Netty Newell. (S)

Runners Dave Christie, Alison and Matt Reilly, and Bernadette Mossman, with Dementia Forward's Netty Newell. (S)

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A touching tribute is to be paid to a ‘marathon man’ whose family has pledged to raise funds for the charity which helped him in his final years.

Alzheimer’s sufferer Alan Christie, from Burkdale Avenue in Knaresborough, died in September last year after a six year battle with the disease.

Through this time, and especially towards the end of his life, he was supported by Harrogate and Ripon charity Dementia Forward which helped him keep running. Now, to give back to the charity, his family have set up a team to take part in the Great North Run.

“They are just honest, decent people,” said his daughter Alison Reilly, 40. “What they do is priceless for families like ours and this felt like a fitting tribute to give something back.”

Alan, a father of three and structural engineer who once worked on the Millennium Dome, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2006.

His family sought help from the then Alzheimer’s Association, but when Dementia Forward was set up in Harrogate and Knaresborough, his care transferred to them.

“My dad was getting into the final stages, it was a really stressful time, but they just did it all so smoothly,” said Mrs Reilly. “There was no break in his support and they worked with us for six years.”

Dementia Forward offered advice and support and Alan’s wife Sheila, 73, would take him to the charity’s lunches to meet other sufferers. This meant the family were ready for what was coming.

“My dad lost his ability to speak at the end,” said Mrs Reilly. “We had to communicate through sign language. But we knew that might happen and it was less of a daunting experience.”

One of the biggest ways the charity helped was by introducing him to a befriender, John Ashfield. The family had struggled as Alan, a keen runner and cyclist who completed 14 marathons in his time and 112 half marathons, now couldn’t find his way home. But John would run with him, making “the world of difference” to his happiness.

“John ran with him for five years, walking with him at the end,” said Mrs Reilly. “There was always a big grin on my dad’s face when he saw him.”

It was Alan’s love of running which has inspired the charity fundraiser in his memory and the family used donations from his funeral to buy five places in the Great North Run in September.

Alison, her brother Dave, 44, and husband Matt, 35, make up three of the spots while two volunteers from Harrogate will take the other two. James Rycroft, 40, and Bernadette Mossman, 47, are the managing director and healthcare director at dementia care specialists Vida Healthcare and they will run with the family. To sponsor them visit www.everyclick.com/gnrforalan.