How saying yes to running the London Marathon led to the launch of one of the country's best-known charities
In 2019, the Virgin Money London Marathon will set a world-beating landmark in the history of the world’s greatest marathon when fundraising from the event will break the £1billion mark.
To celebrate this achievement, we are saying #ThanksaBillion to every runner and charity who have played a part since the very first London Marathon in 1981 in helping us reach this landmark figure.
One charity which is inexorably linked to the Virgin Money London Marathon is Whizz-Kidz.
The charity, which provides mobility equipment for disabled young people, started when one man, Mike Dickson, ran the 1989 London Marathon with a friend. Now it is one of the most recognisable charities in the UK and has taken more than £100 million and helped transform the lives of more than 20,000 people.
Here Mike tells the story in his own words.
"I often get asked, how did it all start, where did the idea to start Whizz-Kidz come from? The truth is, it is a tale of serendipity. It was about being in the right place, at the right time.
"It all started at a Christmas party in London in 1988. Like most Christmas parties, people were enjoying themselves, having a drink or two when I got talking to someone who worked for one of the sponsors of the London Marathon back then. The chat soon turned to the marathon and someone proposed the challenge of running the London Marathon in April. I put my hand up and said ‘I’ll do it’ and that was that. I didn’t think anything more of it – at least for a few weeks.
"It was 18 January when I got a reminder of what I had volunteered for. That date is one that I will never forget, it will be inscribed in my brain forever. I got a fax through on that day confirming my place in the 1989 London Marathon together with a 12 week training schedule.
"I came home from work on that day and there was a party going on at our house. I picked up a gin and tonic, as you do, and then fished out the fax I had received and waved it at my wife, Shuna and the guests. Now, you have to bear in mind that, at the time, I could certainly not be described as a runner. Immediately two of the guests said they would donate £1,000 to charity if I finished the race. My bluff had been called.
"I managed to rope in a good friend of mine Ricky Richardson who was a senior paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital to run with me and we started doing a bit of training but we weren’t exactly working to a training plan like you have now. I think the maximum distance we got up to ahead of the marathon was six miles, so we were definitely heading into the unknown on Race Day itself.
|Mike Dickson and Ricky Richardson: With their medals at the end of the 1989 London Marathon|
"In the build-up to the marathon I was in a cycle shop I owned in Covent Garden and saw a girl come in using a powered wheelchair. It was clearly giving this girl so much help and making her life that much better. I asked how much one of them cost and was told they were £1,000.
"I called the company that provided the powered wheelchairs and asked if they had a list of children who had requested a chair and they said they had just got the name of a little girl aged 12 with severe Cerebral Palsy called Sammy. Sammy lived in Lincoln.
"I travelled to Lincoln and met Sammy and was very moved. I went home with a picture of Sammy and Ricky and I decided to run the London Marathon for her. To do something physically ‘mildly heroic’ to provide mobility for a young girl who couldn’t move her self about. Once we started telling our friends about what we were running for, money started coming in so by the time we were stood on the Start Line on Sunday 23 April 1989 we had already raised £9,000.
"When Ricky and I were stood on the Start Line, we had no idea what we were doing. We hugged each other exclaimed ‘all for one and one for all’ and set of into the distance. But we got round. I eventually finished in six-and-a-half hours. I think they were already clearing the roads as I was passing as they prepared to re-open them, but I got there. Ricky in a more respectable five hours!
"As a result of that we got Sammy a wheelchair and it changed her life. All our friends were congratulating us and saying we had done something heroic. But we didn’t look at it like that. We just think we did something physically knackering to help others.
"We must have been mad because, having done our first marathon, we decided to immediately sign up for another and to continue fundraising. We had about £6,000 left over from the money raised at London so we decided to add to that by running the New York City Marathon in the same year.
"We completed the New York Marathon, with some friends raised more funds and then, in April 1990, nearly a full year since we completed the London Marathon, myself, Ricky and my wife Shuna set up Whizz-Kidz.
"We didn’t know anything about charities. We had lots of business expertise in different areas but had not done anything in the charity sector. It was all a wonderful adventure.
"I became the CEO and the charity grew year on year and every year the London Marathon has been an important part of the fundraising. It in the DNA of the charity.
"Now the charity has raised more than £100m and provided wheelchairs to more than 20,000 young people. And to think it started almost as a complete accident. We had no idea what we were doing. It just started with a couple of lads who had been challenged to do the marathon.
"Now, every single year, hundreds of people raise money for Whizz-Kidz, many of them at the London Marathon.
"It’s a wonderful and true story. Which we three simply regard as a blessing."