In October 2004, 13 people in London were taking the first steps of what would become a global running phenomenon.
On the other side of the Irish Sea, I was taking my first steps since receiving a new liver.
I had just turned 18 and everything happened within the space of a week. I had been in Botswana for two weeks with 11 other members of my church, building low-cost housing for people in sub-standard living conditions. On our last day I began to feel unwell. I didn't think it was anything serious but as I began the journey home, which involved an eight-hour bus journey to the capital Gaborone and three flights back to Belfast, my condition worsened rapidly.
After spending two nights in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, during which time I became oblivious to events, I was transferred to Kings College Hospital in London as there were signs that my liver was deteriorating and a transplant might be necessary. Five days after my 18th birthday my liver failed completely, and had I not received a transplant within eight hours I would have died.
Luckily for me an organ became available and following 11 hours of surgery I had a new liver.
Running had always been the sport I enjoyed the most, so getting back to physical fitness was really important to me. The first few painful steps were from my hospital bed to the door, along the corridor, and up and down a few flights of stairs. I then tackled short walks outdoors. These gradually increased in distance, and nine months after the surgery I was finally ready to tackle ten miles of the Belfast Marathon Walk. It was another year before my first running race, a leg of the Belfast Marathon Relay.
When I first heard about parkrun, the idea of getting up for a run at 9:30am on a Saturday didn't appeal to me I must confess! But when a couple of church friends suggested we go together I decided to give it a go, and I knew immediately that parkrun was how I wanted to spend my Saturday mornings.
I love an excuse to travel somewhere different, so 'parkrun tourism' quickly appealed to me. My first few runs were at Stormont parkrun in Belfast, but then I ventured to other events further afield. The atmosphere at parkrun is very appealing, there is a friendly vibe, and it’s great that everyone is encouraged to run or walk at their own pace. I have also enjoyed volunteering on a few occasions.
Last year I was selected for the World Transplant Games in Argentina where I competed alongside athletes from 44 countries, winning two silver medals in the 5000m Walk and 5k Road Race.
This was a really significant moment, because a fitting way for me to pay tribute to my donor and their family has always been by demonstrating a healthy and active lifestyle. The World Transplant Games is all about celebrating the donors who allowed us to be there in the first place, and I live every day in gratitude knowing that without a donor my life would have been cut short at a young age.
Winning lots of awards or being the best isn’t important; but achieving personal goals that I am proud of is one of the best ways of showing my gratitude.