Mari Akhurst – 2018 Yearly Update

Mari with her parents and David Bickers (right) from the DBF

Wow I wasn’t sure we could better 2017 but we certainly have done! Dreams have come true this year and it really does show that perseverance and hard work pays off.  None of what I have achieved would have been possible without my amazing support team, my family and all my fantastic sponsors and supporters. 

Living with a changing condition has its challenges but my motto is “everything happens for a reason” and I’m a fighter!! I really enjoy inspiring others to get involved in Para sport in particular Para Dressage; this year acting as a mentor for a young para rider. I also enjoyed carrying out my role as an Ambassador for Arctic One and was delighted and honoured to have been asked to be an Ambassador for the Douglas Bader Foundation (DBF).

Sky has been a complete superstar and our results speak for themselves  3rdWinter Para Dressage Gold Championships, Gold Semi Finals 2nd  70%, Hartpury CPEDI3* (1stoverall Grade 1, winner of Individual and Freestyle test) with 71%+ and 73%+ and British Dressage Nationals Para Gold Championships 1stNational Champion 70%+.

Bear has come on leaps and bounds this year and we are so close to that 70%. I am really looking forward to next year and getting more experience under our belts and I am sure that our scores will be on the rise. 

I have had my most successful year to date finishing the year as an International and National champion. I was one of only 12 to achieve the selection criteria for the World Equestrian Games and I beat a Paralympian at my grade for the first time; the first GB rider to do this. I was also awarded a head collar at the British Dressage National convention for winning my class at the Nationals. 

Despite not being selected onto the World Class programme my team and I will still be campaigning for the 2019 Europeans. I am really looking forward to stepping up another level with both horses and aiming for the 73%+ scores with Sky which we are already so close to!! I am also excited about starting public speaking as an inspirational speaker. Bring on 2019. 

Eyes right!
Line up
The competition
Mari and Sky in action
On screen performance
Victorious Team Mari!

We are delighted to kick off our new year posts with this typically positive update from new DBF Ambassador, Mari. As she says, not being selected for the World Class Programme won’t stop her fight to compete at the highest level and with her huge courage and determination we know she’ll succeed. It’s Mari’s positive attitude and her strength in the face of adversity that we know will also make her a wonderful inspirational speaker.

The London 10k Run-A personal achievement by Andy Kneen

Andy`s British 10 km run on Sunday 12th July

First of all, I hope this article does not put anyone off the idea of doing a 10km run (!), but rather acts as some sort of small incentive to sign up for one next year and raise some funds for the Douglas Bader Foundation.

I was involved in a road traffic accident approx eight years ago. As a result of the accident, I lost my left leg below the knee. Over the years I`ve adapted pretty well and being an amputee has never prevented me from being able to do anything I`ve wanted to do. However great my previous legs had been, there was always a thought in the back of my mind, “if only I had a slightly better leg, I’d be able to run much more confidently….” With this in mind, I bucked up the courage in May to make an appointment with the consultant and physio at Roehampton. Much to my delight, they endorsed my request and work began in earnest to make the new leg that in the words of the consultant had a bit more “umph” and would make running easier.

I collected the new leg in early June and instantly felt like a liberated man with the ability to run all around Roehampton! In the midst of my joy, I noticed a poster in the corner of my eye advertising the British 10km run on Sunday 12th July. Now being someone who quite likes a stretch target, I decided there and then that this is the challenge I needed, and so what if it only meant six weeks to get use to running again and with a new leg? I duly sent off the registration pack to Keith at the DBF and had “selective hearing” to any friends/family who suggested it may be sensible to get use to the leg and then contemplate a run in 2010. What a load of nonsense!

So my preparation began that weekend with runs around the nearby King George Park and the streets of Earlsfield. The truly pivotal moment was setting up the Just Giving web page for people to donate to the DBF. I had raised £1,000 in the first week and there really was no going back!

My training for the next four weeks consisted of a “two days on, one day off” routine with runs around different local parks and roads. Things were going well – I occasionally woke up the following morning with a few aches and pains and had a recurring issue with the stump sweating and consequently a gap appearing between the bottom of the stump and the silicone sock, leading to it twisting and irritating the skin – but it felt great to be up and running again. I was starting to feel comfortable with how the preparation was going and confident that I might even be able to complete it in one piece without the need for oxygen! By this stage, I was up to 7-8 km runs.

As luck would have it, I had also signed up to attend a day at Loughborough University on Saturday 27th June organised by the University of Strathclyde and targeted at amputees with an interest in getting involved in sport. This was a great day with representatives from different amputee sports, the British Paralympics Association (BPA) together with a range of prosthetists and physios. I used this opportunity to question the specialists on the issue of my silicone sock (the solution being to cut up a cotton sock and put this immediately between the skin and silicone sleeve). This suggestion was hugely beneficial. I also asked the BPA physios to observe my running technique and suggest a few improvements. Once again, a few simple and easy to implement suggestions, such as keeping my feet slightly wider apart and bringing my legs up higher, made an instant improvement.

I returned to London in good spirits, bought a new pair of “proper running shoes” and got back to practicing on my by now familiar routes. But then disaster struck! Just seven days to go to the race and I took my leg of after a busy day at work to discover an enormous blister at the end of the stump. Talk about bad timing! By the next morning it was sore even to put the leg on and very difficult to walk on. It had become pretty obvious that there was no other alternative than a trip to see the nurse at work for a diagnosis. I got patched up with some plasters and told to not wear the leg for three days and to forget about any idea of running on Sunday.

The only option was to enter into negotiation with nurse and agree some sort of deal! We agreed on a compromise whereby I would take it “easy” until Friday with a view to running on Saturday only if everything was better and then run the race on the Sunday only if the above happened.

I (almost!) kept to my side of the bargain. I was up and running on the Saturday (if the nurse ever reads the article!) and once again feeling confident and looking forward to the run the following day.

I woke up on race day feeling relieved to see no blister, amazed that the weather looked set to be sunny for the whole day, and feeling optimistic about completing the run in one piece.

After about an hour or so waiting, it was finally time to start and the adrenalin kicked in! I completed the first couple of km`s in what felt like no time and then realised that there is probably a good reason why the other runners were pacing themselves! As I was contemplating a wee power walk, I heard an almighty “Go on Andy” from Keith at the DBF and did just as instructed! I was able to pace it a bit more in the Embankment loop and kept to a reasonable 6 minutes per km. I was genuinely motivated and inspired by the “good luck” and “come on” message from members of the public and other runners. It seemed like whenever I was about to walk for a while someone would shout, “come on” and I had no option but to keep on running!

I remember running past the 7km mark and thinking “easy”, all I have got to do now is get back to the end of Embankment, do the loop on Westminster Bridge and its virtually mission accomplished. I was still feeling pretty good as I got on to Westminster Bridge and then the blasted blister returned!

I was able to put up with the pain and discomfort for 1 km or so but as I passed the Houses of Parliament it was becoming worse and worse. Time for Plan B! I ended up skipping the last 1 km or so on one leg. It must have looked comical to other runners by this stage but their well wishes were particularly well received during this last phase of the run.

I limped (quite literally) over the finish line, took a well-deserved sit-down and clocked my race time at 55 minutes, 16 seconds, a pleasing time, especially given the drama of the last 2km!

I made my way to meet Keith and the other DBF runners at a café on the Strand. It was great to see how well the other runners did and see the dedication they had made in supporting the DBF.

As mentioned earlier, my Just Giving webpage proved to be very popular and the amount raised (£2,305 at the time of writing) continues to leave me speechless. I guess the story of the recovery from my accident must have inspired my family, friends and work colleagues to dig deep and support the DBF. A big thank-you to anyone who reads this article and sponsored me. Your generosity will make a real difference.

As I write this article some three weeks after the run, the 10 km run is a must for all of you. It’s a great opportunity to set yourself a target, achieve some fitness goals and raise some money for the DBF.

“a disabled person who fights back is not disabled … but inspired” This is the quote from Douglas Bader that inspired and kept me going during the six weeks training. I`ve set myself a new target of entering The Blenheim Palace triathlon on 5th June 2010. This “sprint” triathlon (750m swim, 28km bike ride and 5km run) sounds like a logical challenge to do next. My shopping mission for this weekend is to buy a new bicycle so that the training can start straight away! Once again, I`m entering the triathlon so that I can raise some funds for the DBF. Please get in touch and let me know if you have any good tips either for preparing for a triathlon, or for raising funds.


31st July 2009