Beating bowel cancer together

17 Great North Runs in memory of dad

Friday 11 November 2022

Gary Kinzett lives in Poynton, near Macclesfield, with his wife Catherine and their 17-year-old twins Max and Ella. Gary has just completed his 17th Great North Run for Bowel Cancer UK, this year raising more than £1,500 and taking his total fundraising to more than £16,500. Here he reflects on the loss of his dad John to bowel cancer and his motivation to support our cause.

Waiting to start my first ever Great North Run in 2003 was a real ‘wow’ moment. I was standing on a dual carriageway and all four lanes were full of people as far as the eye could see, all waiting to run. There were 60,000 people there – enough to fill a football stadium – and I was part of it.

It was incredible.

I was there to do something good, something constructive after losing my dad to bowel cancer two years earlier.

My dad fell ill in 2001. He was retired by then and he and my mum, Corrine, had just come back from a big trip around the world as a retirement gift to themselves. He was all set up to enjoy his retirement when he got a bladder infection that wouldn’t go away. Tests revealed he had a hole in his bladder and a corresponding hole in his bowel. In effect, his bowel was infecting his bladder. It was extremely painful and debilitating.

It took months to get the infections under control and then another test revealed his bowel was cancerous. The holes in his bladder and bowel were fixed and he had radiotherapy. He then had an operation and chemotherapy and was in remission for about a year before the cancer came back.

I was living in Manchester and my dad, my mum and my brother Derek were living in Wiltshire. We’d go down at weekends and because I wasn’t seeing him regularly the changes in dad were startling, especially the weight loss.

My Dad died in 2003, roughly 18 months after the cancer was diagnosed. He was 68, no age at all.

His mum Edna, who was 93, died just two weeks before him. By then my dad was in a hospice,

Dorothy House in Bradford upon Avon, and was too ill to go to her funeral. I visited him on the day of her funeral and then again the day after before we drove back to Manchester.

The very next day we had a phone call to say he was gravely ill so we travelled back down. I thought

I’d missed him but as it turned out he died just as we arrived at the hospice. He was unlucky – they didn’t find the cancer early enough.

The grief hit me badly. I was depressed, I got very low. Looking back, from the time he died I was like that for about three years. A long time.

My twins were born the year after my dad died, and that was a catalyst for change. I had to step up and sort myself out and decided to go back to some form of exercise – running. I used to run cross country at school. I ran for the county and I’d always run playing football, so it wasn’t a brand new thing, it was just going back to it.

I’d spent too long wallowing in my own grief and the running made me feel better. When I was running I wasn’t wallowing, I wasn’t staying up late, I was attempting to live more healthily and start looking after myself – to come out of the darkness.

I started running further, I got quicker and then I needed a target to aim for, so I picked the 2003 Great North Run because of its iconic status and its donation appeal. I also chose it because I didn’t think I was fit enough to do a marathon – I didn’t have the time. We’d just had twins so the thought of disappearing for hours on training runs wasn’t conducive to family life. Thirteen miles was just right because I was running up to seven miles in training and I could see that I could do enough to get to 13.

Since then I’ve run the Great North Run another 16 times. I missed one because one of the twins was in hospital. I don’t have a target for how many I’ll do, I’ll just keep going. I had a wobble a couple of years ago when my time dropped to 2:14. My best was 1:48. But I’ve come back and this year I did just over two hours.

That first year was the biggest donation, it was about £3,000. It was back in the day when people would give me real money and send me cheques and I had to write down on an A4 piece of paper what the amount was, who donated and their home address. I’ve still got that paper record. That was really quite emotional seeing all those people supporting me and the bowel cancer cause.

My children, who have part time jobs, now sponsor me with their own money and my son Max ran the 2022 race with me this year, which was fantastic. His grandad would have been proud of him. I want to say thank you to family, friends, colleagues and to everyone else who has supported me over the years.

I’d also like to thank my wife Catherine, who has given me the time and opportunity to go out and train since the twins were little. It’s been difficult at times because she’s had to look after both of them on her own. Thank you Cath for enabling me to be part of the bowel cancer support team.

  • Inspired to take part in The Great North Run 2023? Sign up here.
  • Running not your thing? There are plenty of other great ways to support us, please find out more here


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