Geoff Coward spends his entire working day standing on his feet. So you wouldn’t expect him to want to run for miles before and after work every day, training for the London Marathon.
“Someone told me that if you can stand on your feet for four hours then that is a good start and I think that my job as a barber should help me with that,” said Geoff.
The owner of GG’s Barber Shop in Shaftesbury is training for the 26-mile challenge with a purpose. Geoff wants to help the ‘Children With Cancer’ charity because it has supported his friends, Natalie and Simon, and their 8-year-old daughter Torri. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
“Every time I see her undergoing treatment she has always been in great spirits. She is still determined to live the life of any normal child, even though she is going through something that most people wouldn’t have to deal with. She is still keen on playing with her friends. She is full of smiles and joking around,” said Geoff.
Torri’s treatment has been tough. She’s had lumber punctures, chemo, bone marrow tests and MRIs. It’s been hard on her family too. Geoff has been impressed by their strength and how they have coped.
“Obviously her dad, Simon, is still working and her sister is still going to school. Her mum Natalie is by her side the whole way. Collectively, as a family, the way they have dealt with it has been inspiring and incredible.”
Geoff says that Children with Cancer has offered a great deal of help and guidance to the family and that’s why he wants to run the London Marathon, with friends, to raise cash for the cause. “It helps finding treatments and care for children with cancer and also support for the families throughout it. It’s not just the research into treatments. It’s a bit of everything really.”
And Torri has been responding well to treatment. “She’s gone in for bouts of chemotherapy and all the horrible things that go with it, which has obviously been very traumatic for her family. It’s starting to work. It’s a good thing. I think they’ve had some encouraging and positive results, which is great but there still a little way to go.”
Geoff’s friends from the East Knoyle and Gillingham areas are also running the London Marathon with him. “My partner Siân’s cousin, Kirsty, ran the marathon last year. She did it for the Weldmar Hospice. I spoke to her a few days after she did it and she said ‘never again’!” But that didn’t deter Geoff and, in fact, Kirsty. She’s entering the London run again too in 2019 with Geoff and as part of a group of locals raising money for Children With Cancer.
“Her husband Stuart is running it along with another chap called George. We’re doing it as ‘Team Torri.’ Kirsty and Stuart are the heads of the group in terms of the organisation and fundraising. We’ve set up our own individual fundraising pages but we’re grouping together for ideas and ways for raising as much awareness as we can,” said Geoff.
Having neighbours training for the London Marathon has helped Geoff remain motivated. “We’re a tight-knit group, which is good for moral support. You can knock on a door and ask ‘do you fancy a run?’ That’s part of the battle really. It’s easy to get your running shoes and shorts on, but getting out of the door and getting some mileage is something you need a bit of a kick up the backside to do. It’s handy to have people around for support.”
Geoff wanted to set a personal challenge and the marathon seemed ideal. “It’s something completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve never been a runner but I’ve always enjoyed sport so hopefully that will help me along.”
He’s now taking his training seriously. “I’ve been properly training for four to six weeks. I am someone who very rarely ran. I’ve probably been for a couple of runs in a year, just when I felt that I should get some exercise. I’ve been trying to run at least three times a week since I started.”
And as a prelude to the marathon, he’s taking part in a 10-mile event in Portsmouth. “The group has signed up to do the Great South Run on 21st October. It’s ten miles and it should be a good starting point at this early stage to get some decent mileage in whilst having a competitive running experience.”
Geoff has been asking customers to his barbershop to support his charity run and he’s received plenty of verbal support so far. “We’ve been here for five years so we get a half decent footfall through, which will help me raise awareness of it all.”
I asked if his clients are more likely to say ‘yes’ when they’re captive in the chair and he has a razor in his hand? “Hopefully it doesn’t come to that,” laughed Geoff.
Geoff’s goal is reasonable. He wants to bring in £3,000 for the charity and £150 has been donated so far. But the marathon isn’t until 28th April and few friends and family have given money so far in advance. “Even close people like parents and friends haven’t officially donated yet although they have said they are going to. It’s another six months away and people have told me that the donations tend to flood in towards the end.”
Geoff is the vocalist and pianist with the popular North Dorset band ‘Sorry About Shaun’. They played at The Larmer Tree Festival this year and they may perform some fundraisers before Geoff’s marathon run. “If we can figure out a local venue to play in we can do some fundraising activity, which will hopefully generate some more sponsors and awareness,” said Geoff.
As well as a fundraising goal, Geoff has set a time target for completing the marathon. “Four-and-a-half hours would be a realistic time with the pace I’m running at the moment,” he says. And Geoff says that if he hits the wall, he’ll think of the brave 8-year-old at home and that will get him through it. “If it wasn’t for the cause that I am running for, I don’t think I would be able to do it,” he said.
You can support Geoff by taking donations to GG’s Barbers on Bell Street or you can donate online at JustGiving.com/fundraising/GeoffTheGiraffe.