Introducing the ASB Auckland Marathon Charity Heroes

28 October 2017 / Published in Your Community

There are 55,000 steps in a marathon. And a story behind every one of them.

Among the thousands taking part in this Sunday’s gruelling ASB Auckland Marathon is a group of extraordinary people. Each of the 670 ASB Auckland Marathon Charity Heroes running the streets of Auckland will not only be doing so for their own personal goals, they’ll be doing it for others as well. Their motivations for doing so are unique. Fuelled by personal tragedy, physical and mental hurdles, as well as compassion, determination and hope. Together, they are aiming to raise over $1,000,000 for 14 extremely deserving New Zealand charities. And because they’re taking the time and effort to run for New Zealanders in need, we thought we’d take the time and effort to share a few of their amazing stories with rest of New Zealand.

Every marathon runner will take 55,000 steps. Give or take a few thousand. With adjustments made for shoe size, height and varying length of stride. But seriously, who’s really counting? Truth be told, we are. Because every step the Charity Heroes take this Sunday morning has an incredible story behind it. So we thought we’d share a handful of them in this marathon-length thank you. It’s the least we can do.

Reading this isn’t going to be easy. It’s a challenge. There’ll be tears. There’ll be times when you’ll want to give up. But there’s a little good news. It’s going to take a lot less effort to read the next 4,000 or so words than it does to run a marathon, or a half marathon for that matter. So please, take a moment to consider how much time the Charity Heroes have given up for their cause. Training in the wind, the rain and the cold. In the daylight, and in the darkness.

Ocean's story

And it’s in the dark where we meet our first ASB Charity Hero, Ocean Stephens. Ocean was born with 20% impaired vision in both  her eyes, and now at the age of only 28, that percentage has diminished to only 5% vision. This would probably stop most people in their tracks, but it’s not stopping Ocean.

As Ocean’s vision reduced, her specialist recommended that she should consider getting a Guide Dog in order to keep her independence. After an in-depth application process and assessment, she was matched with JJ, a 4-year old black Labrador. JJ has quickly become her best friend, her eyes, her freedom and the newest member of the family. This has motivated her to take on the Auckland Marathon to raise money for Blind Foundation guide dogs so that more dogs like JJ can be trained.   

JJ is intelligent and has been well trained for her home and city lifestyle. She has a big personality, is playful, caring, sociable and gentle. When working in her harness, Ocean trusts JJ with her life because she is devoted and loyal on the job. Wherever they go, JJ attracts amazing attention due to her quiet nature and good behaviour. JJ is quick to adapt to changes in her routine because of the many changes in Ocean' s life. JJ has enriched both Ocean and her partner Craig’s life and given Ocean the confidence and perseverance to accomplish her goals.

And at dawn this Sunday, Ocean will be heading to the start line. In near darkness due to her impaired vision, Ocean will take 55,000 steps to help supporter the training of Guide dogs.

Sue's story

Also taking the line as the sun comes up this Sunday is Charity Hero, Sue. Sue will be pounding the pavement for Youthline. Sue’s first half marathon was in 2014, the same year that her daughter Dani made the decision to tragically take her own life.

Sue and her husband Paul say that losing Dani, who was 23 at the time, to suicide is the worst thing that could ever have happened to them. Only two hours before they lost their daughter, they had been chatting with her, and said there was no indication she was about to do the unthinkable.

So Sue has made it her mission to encourage all young people to reach out to Youthline when they need someone to talk to, because it's okay to talk about it. And they are definitely not alone. Sue wants all young people, and their families, to make sure other families around New Zealand don’t ever have to go through the heartache she and Paul have experienced.

Sue, Paul, and Dani’s older brother, Alex, are still coming to terms with their immense loss. But together they are helping themselves heal, and being involved with Youthline has given them all a strong sense of purpose.

Sue’s and Paul’s tragic loss has inspired them to take action. Over the past three years, along with Dani’s best friend Jayde, they have raised more than $20,000 for Youthline. This year Sue’s team has the ambitious goal of raising an additional $5,000.

This will be the 3rd year that Sue and Jayde step up to the line to raise funds for Youthline. And while the loss of her daughter was devastating, they are intent on helping young people make the right decisions in life.

Megan's story

Should you be stepping up to the line on Sunday, you’ll join people who see the starting line as a milestone in itself.

Charity Hero Megan is one of the tens of thousands of people who have been victims of crime, suicide, or serious, often fatal, trauma. The aftermath of crime and sudden death can be a dark, lonely place where it takes every bit of strength to face the day ahead.

Megan’s mum was a dedicated volunteer, and then coordinator for Victim Support, helping victims of serious crime, trauma and suicide. Tragically, Megan’s mum took her own life in 2015. Since then Megan has been involved with Victim Support as someone in need. And now someone with the confidence to give back.

Megan will tell you, the only thing that kept her moving forward, was kindness and support from her family, friends and the Victim Support volunteers who visited and called her to offer a helping hand. And it's this support that gave her the foundation to recovery.

But Megan steps up to the line with a message for everyone out there. That there is hope. And there is help. At Victim Support.

And to say thank you and support this amazing organisation, Megan is walking to raise money. So there can always be someone there for others in need. With over 30,000 people a year needing help, Victim Support will be there to help them get through some of the darkest times in their lives.

Lew's story

Lew is 16. And back in 2015, his little 6-year-old sister Kiriana was diagnosed with leukaemia, which is cancer of the blood. It was devastating news for the family. But together they started the long journey to support Kiriana through her gruelling journey of treatments. A journey no one should ever have to endure. Especially not a 6-year old who’s usually full of beans.

The good news is that, after receiving world-class treatment our national children’s hospital, two and a bit years later Kiriana is back at school, very healthy and as ‘savage’ as ever (Lew’s words, not ours).

During her treatment, Lew and his family were in awe of the wonderful service and care from the team at Starship Hospital. They are simply amazing. They helped Kiriana and her family get through a very tough time and even managed to put a smile on her face in times when you wouldn’t expect to see one. An incredible feat in itself.

And so, as a very long overdue thank you, Lew decided to dig out his old running shoes and raise some money for the Starship Foundation by putting his body through a whole lot of discomfort for the 2017 Auckland Marathon as an ASB Charity Hero.

Kaelen's story

Now, Kaelen’s Pop is no stranger to the inside of a St John ambulance. Twice they’ve picked him up after burst aortas. And once when he went into cardiac arrest. But thanks to St John, Kaelen’s Pop is still alive and well, despite having more metal in his body than veins because of all the stents.

Kaelen is convinced, that if it weren’t for St John, her own support system wouldn’t be around today. So this year, Kaelen decided to do her very first marathon as a Charity Hero running for St John. The fact that the longest distance she’s previously attempted was a 1.5km Weet-bix Tryathlon wasn’t going to quench her desire to give back; she’s trained hard and is ready to go the distance on Sunday. And this personal journey has even inspired her to return to university and work towards becoming a paramedic herself.

Diesel's story

Although he’s been training, keen runner Diesel is not going to run the marathon this Sunday. Definitely not. Not that he wouldn’t love to. And to tell you the truth he’d probably smash the 55,000 steps in half the time most other people would. Diesel has a highly unusual condition, which prevents him from taking part as a Charity Hero. He has an uncontrollable urge to sniff bottoms. And lick people’s faces. And cock his leg on all manner of items even when it appears he should have nothing left in his bladder. And rifle through the trash looking for a tasty morsel. Yes, you guessed it. Diesel is a canine. A rather eccentric Huntaway X, and the apple of Helena, his owner’s, eye.

Helena adopted Diesel as a pup from the SPCA. And since his adoption the two have been almost inseparable. Which will make the marathon that little more difficult for the both of them.

Helena is a first time runner, and has a condition that makes her heart rate race, which can cause her to pass out. Luckily Diesel is there to lick her face until she wakes up. But with the right medication and plenty of training and planning, Helena is going to run this Sunday as a Charity Hero for the SPCA. Why? Because Helena often wonders where both she and Diesel would be if the SPCA hadn’t paired them together for life.

Kelly's story

The P word. A word that can send shivers to the innermost depths of men’s nether regions. P for prostate. And the shivers are because the only time guys think about it, is when there’s a problem with it. A little bit like a car’s engine. Except you can’t pop your bonnet and admire how shiny it is with a few of your mates. Prostate cancer is the leading type of cancer in Kiwi men - about 10 years ago, Kelly’s Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer after popping into his GP for a routine check-up. He immediately started an intensive treatment programme, which included chemotherapy and radiation therapy and successfully put the cancer into remission for several years.  

But then it returned and this time more aggressively, spreading to Kelly’s Dad’s lymph nodes, spine and other bones. So last year, Kelly ran the Auckland Marathon to support her Dad and raise funds for the Prostate Cancer Foundation who assist patients like her Dad and their families.

Sadly, earlier this year, Kelly’s Dad lost his fight with prostate cancer.

The funds and awareness ASB Charity Heroes raise will help the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand enormously to continue with research, raising awareness of this disease and supporting men and their families during their fight through their prostate cancer journey.

Congratulations. You’ve reached the halfway mark. We admire your tenacity, determination and stamina. But for you, just like our marathon runners tomorrow, there’s no intermission at this show. You’ve got to keep on keeping on. They’re not going to stop for a breather. They’ll keep placing one foot in front of the other driven by their stories.

Pierre's story

Pierre has chosen to be an ASB Charity Hero for the New Zealand Red Cross, because he wants to support an organisation with an international vision that helps vulnerable people, both here in New Zealand and around the world.

We’re lucky to live in a country where we can still walk, run and play on the streets where we live and feel relatively safe. Simple endeavours we should never take for granted. We have roads we can run along, and footpaths to keep us safe from traffic. We have adequate street lighting and roads that a free from litter, storm water and free from hazards.

Pierre-Yves wants to help Kiwis to understand just how lucky we are. Lucky to grow up in a safe place. Lucky that we don't wake in the morning wondering if our family members have survived the night. Lucky that we have the freedom of choice to read a story like this at our leisure. And we think that is definitely worthy of hero-status.

Mike's story

In mid-2010 Mike’s mum Carolyn was diagnosed with breast cancer. And her fight began. Carolyn’s family came together and supported her courageous 18-month battle. Sharing the good times and the bad. The laughs and the tears. And her resolve to beat breast cancer never wavered. Her family stayed strong by her side, until she lost the fight in 2012. Throughout her battle Carolyn’s family also got behind Breast Cancer Foundation New Zealand to help raise funds to improve awareness around breast cancer.  More recently, Mike’s colleague Annette was also diagnosed with breast cancer, which was a stark reminder of the emotional journey he went on with his mum. He looked around to see what he could do to support Annette outside of giving her words of support. Once again he found a great cause in the Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.

This Sunday he’s running the ASB Auckland Marathon to acknowledge that life is not always easy, and we can be in physical pain but at the same time with support from others we can enjoy the moment and create great memories. He wants his kids not only to see that helping others is what life’s all about, but ensure that his mum’s courage is never forgotten. Every step he takes will be buoyed by the fact that Annette is well on her way to beating her breast cancer.

JP's story

JP has seen the horrors of this world. The effects of long term abuse in adults. The scars of mental and physical abuse on children. Horrific scenes at fatal motor vehicle accidents. And the tragedies of families torn apart by loss. As a detective, he sees the psychological effects of abuse, trauma and grief. And the profound effect it has on people's mental health.

And JP has experienced it at a personal level too. When growing up, he would often feel a vacant hollowness come over him. He never knew what it was and couldn’t explain it, so never spoke to anyone about it. He accepted the feeling of overwhelming sadness as a normal part of his life. And at 26, he hit rock bottom. He decided to return from overseas to get some help, only to discover a good friend had taken his own life. This triggered JP’s first deep depressive episode. It was around this time that he met his future wife. And he was amazed that she loved him despite his perceived faults.

JP sees the world much clearer today. He has his wife and boys to thank for that. Exercise, fishing and diving have been a saving grace for JP. It’s these activities, alongside necessary conversation, openness and honesty that has helped him through many hard times.

Recently, JP has started to question why Kiwis aren’t talking about mental wellness. And that’s why he’s running as a Charity Hero this Sunday for the Mental Health Foundation. He wants to start a public conversation about mental health. He wants everyone to hear his story in the hope that someone out there, who might be dealing with the similar inner pain that he felt, knows that they do not need to endure it alone.

Don’t worry, JP won’t be trying to have a chinwag with you while you’re wheezing your way up the incline of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. He’ll be saving his breath for the home stretch. But you can be sure he’ll be making plenty of noise when he crosses the line a few hours after the starting gun.

Celine's story

It takes a big, brave heart to run as a Charity Hero. Especially when it’s heart failure that has brought you to the starting line. Ten years ago, completely out of the blue, Celine’s dad passed away from heart failure. It was a devastating blow to a tight-knit family. And then just 18 months later, her little brother Jean-Philippe also passed away from heart failure. He was just 17 years old and her best friend. He loved to play sports, be around friends and family, and was very proactive in his school community. His passion for helping others has motivated Celine to run for the Heart Foundation, along with her friend Katherine, who was Jean-Philippe’s girlfriend at the time of his death.  

Celine knows the money she raises will help the Heart Foundation continue its life-saving work preventing premature heart-disease deaths, and supporting the 172,000 Kiwis living with heart disease.

Antonio's story

Like many people in the world, Antonio is addicted to running. And on Sunday morning, Antonio will be chomping at the bit to hear the starter’s horn screech at dawn.

As many long distance runners will attest to, when you find your stride, you also find your inner voice. And Antonio found himself thinking about what he could do to help others. And use his passion for running to do it. The more he saw of his neighbourhood, the more he got to thinking about the miracle of sight. And how much we take it for granted.

So Antonio looked into The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, and the work they do in developing countries. And the more he learned, the more he realised how lucky he was to have good eyesight. Simply put, The Fred Hollows Foundation has helped restore sight to those that are needlessly blind. And over the last 25 years, their doctors have restored eyesight to more than 2 million people worldwide. But there’s still a long way to go with over 1.35 billion people suffering from vision loss that is treatable.

Antonio isn’t trained to perform eye surgery but as a Charity Hero his efforts can certainly help people see again.

Some people, like Antonio, are just born to run. It’s in their blood. They live, breathe and dream about going faster, going further and getting ahead. They’re naturals. And some of us are not so natural. But that doesn’t mean we’re any less driven. You could say people who aren’t naturals might rate higher in the determination stakes too.

James's story

James started running only last year. And looking at him, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s not exactly a natural. And that assumption is proven by the fact that since he began running he’s taken a couple of nasty tumbles while trying to run up Mt Eden. In the dark. He’s also broken three legs. Three legs? How many does the man have? Actually only one. Losing the other to cancer at the age of 11. The three legs he broke while training were artificial and fairly expensive to replace. But that’s not going to stop James. You’ll see him at the starting line on Sunday brimming with confidence and sporting a brand new running blade. If he can get the support of his limb centre. James will be running for the Cancer Society, a fantastic cause that provides free support services and information for people going through cancer treatment. And once he crosses the finish line who knows what his next goal will be. The world is his oyster.

Aurelia's story

At just 9 years old, Aurelia is one of the youngest Charity Heroes running this weekend. She has decided to run for the Auckland City Mission because she wants to make a difference for children who aren’t as lucky as she has been in life. Aurelia’s mum, Alexis, works at the Mission, and Aurelia was inspired to choose this particular charity because of her experiences visiting the Mission with Mum. Aurelia has seen the fantastic things that the City Mission does, especially for families who are in need of food. She can’t imagine going without food for a day, and wants to make sure that other kids don’t have to go without either. So, she’s been training hard at school through cross-country practice to help do her part and raise money on Sunday.  She’s also using other intensive aerobic exercises such as dancing around the lounge in order to prepare for the day. Aurelia’s incredibly thankful to the people who have already donated to her page, and wants to tell more people about Auckland’s City Mission’s amazing work. And on Sunday, she’s as determined as all of the Charity Heroes to give it everything, all the way to the finish line.

Despite contributing to the $1,000,000 raised for charities across all of Sunday’s events, this is just the beginning. Our 670 ASB Auckland Marathon Charity Heroes have only just started their journey to raise money for the causes they believe in. And once they’ve crossed the finish line, they’ll continue to show their support. To encourage understanding. To promote awareness. Fight for change. And work towards a better world.

So this is our sincere thank you to each and every one of our heroes. Your determination and kindness is phenomenal. And to you, the reader, for taking your time to read these heroic stories. Just one final request. Please get behind our runners as they step up to the line this Sunday. Simply go to www.aucklandmarathon.everydayhero.do and select a cause, to make a difference to people’s lives. It’s a little bit easier than running 55,000 steps.


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