THINK 82 years old and Jam and Jerusalem may come to mind – but marathon-running Margaret Smith is no ordinary octogenarian.
After a lifetime of leisure and competitive cycling on the regional scene, the superfit Knowle pensioner took up running at the tender age of 70, completing the 2006 London Marathon just two years later in memory of her late husband Gordon who she lost to cancer in 1996.
She has completed many half marathons, 200 park runs and fun runs over the years.
But her latest challenge – next weekend’s Great North Run – has taken on a much greater significance since she signed up in October last year.
Margaret initially wanted to take part in the iconic race for pleasure and to raise some charity money.
But she was dealt a massive blow in January when her partner Richard Hewitt, 88, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Refusing to let cancer break her spirit, Margaret is now using the Great North Run to raise as much money as she can for two cancer charities – Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie where Richard is receiving care.
Losing two partners to cancer is not the only heartache Margaret has had to face – she lost her son Paul just days before his 22nd birthday – he was killed in a car crash in Birmingham.
Her other son Peter, now 58, is a rock in her life – and also an inspiration to keep her fit, active and fundraising.
“This life is not a rehearsal – you’ve got to get up, get on with is and make the most of it – that’s what Peter always tells me – and he’s right,” Margaret told Observer editor Chris Willmott.
“I have had many heartaches in my life, but you have to keep going in tribute to the people you have lost or who are fighting brave battles,” she added.
“Gordon and Paul keep me going when I’m taking part in races – I have a chat with them as I go round.
“And now I have Richard to fight for too.
“Keeping fit and running is what keeps me going – and I’m not ready to stop anytime soon.”
Richard and Margaret have been together for 18 years – but they have been friends since they were teenagers.
In fact, Richard and Margaret’s late husband were the best of friends – having met as members of the Shirley Roads Cycling Club at the age of 15.
It was through their shared love of cycling that the three became friends and that Margaret met, fell in love with and married Gordon.
And it was through their lifelong friendship and his fantastic support that, following the tragic passing of Gordon, Margaret and Richard found love and companionship.
They have now been together for 18 years – but Richard may not live to see the end of the year.
Which is why Margaret is appealing to Observer readers to help her raise as much money as possible for the two fantastic cancer charities.
“I lost my husband to cancer and am now facing losing my partner to the same cruel disease, so I am asking for people to be as generous as they can afford to be and help me raise as much money as I can for Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie,” she said.
If you are inspired by Margaret’s running achievements, or touched by her story here’s how you can help.
To donate online to Macmillan Cancer Support visit: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/MargaretaSmith and to donate to Marie Curie either get in touch with Margaret if you know her or contact the Marie Curie fundraising team on 0121 703 3714 – stating that you are donating for Margaret Smith’s Great North Run challenge.
You can also post cheques to: Fundraising Team, Marie Curie Hospice West Midlands, Marsh Lane, Solihull, B91 2PQ – please attach a cover note saying it is for Margaret’s challenge.