Academics at University of Worcester Part of Wheelchair Marathon Bid

London Marathon 2024 - sports lecturers 1
Left to right: Dr Darren Cooper, Principal Lecturer in Sports Therapy, Gareth Rees, and Richard Pepperell, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for Physical Education and Sports Coaching

Gareth Rees, who is paralysed from the neck down, will be pushed by four able bodied runners, including his cousin, Dr Darren Cooper, Principal Lecturer in Sports Therapy, and former rugby teammate, Richard Pepperell, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for Physical Education and Sports Coaching. They are aiming to raise at least £2,500 for the RFU Injured Players Foundation, a charity that has provided support for Gareth in the past.

The plan is for the team to complete the whole 26.2-mile distance all together, with no more than two pushing Gareth at any time. Gareth, who injured his spinal cord playing rugby in 2011, is the only one officially competing in the Marathon on April 21. Darren said in recent years the rules had changed to allow some assisted places in the Marathon, and Gareth has one of 10 places available.

By complete coincidence, both Darren and Richard work in the University’s School of Sport and Exercise Science. Darren is an experienced runner, who has completed a few marathons and ironman challenges before, including Ironman UK, but this is a different type of challenge. With Gareth and his wheelchair, as well as any necessary supplies, the team will be pushing around 100kg in total.

“A few of us have experience pushing buggies with children in, but that’s very different,” said Darren. “But one of the reasons for doing the marathon in London is that the crowds are always out in force, that’s a big draw.”

Richard’s marathon experience is not as extensive, though he has done some middle-distance triathlons. “It’s daunting, but I keep myself pretty fit and we’re not aiming for the fastest time,” he said. “We’re ultimately under no time pressures to get Gareth round, especially as the world record is around two hours and 35 minutes so we’re not going for that! I’m training for it, making sure I’m not the weakest link.

“I think the biggest challenge is getting the five of us together to do any practising. There are a few sharp corners on the course so we have to think about navigating those corners. We’ll work as a team and go as fast as the slowest person.”

The team are estimating that they will get round the course in about five hours.

For Gareth, the challenges are entirely different. The 37-year-old, of Warwick, will be using a wheelchair purpose built for the occasion.

“Because I have only got movement in my shoulders and above I need to make sure of not bouncing around and slipping down and falling sideways,” he said. “It’s a harder seat so it’s making sure I’m okay, especially my skin, even though I’m just essentially sitting there. I need make sure I am healthy when we get to the start line and am in a condition where I can do it. So, although I’m not doing athletic training, I still need to prepare for what the day will entail.”

To donate visit their justgiving fundraising webpage.