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Runner and cancer patient Rosy Ryan completes her 100th Parkrun

Nikki McKeown speaks to cancer patient Rosy Ryan, the American-born Belfast woman who completed her 100th Parkrun on Saturday despite being given a terminal diagnosis seven years ago

Rosy Ryan completed her 100th Parkrun at the Waterworks in North Belfast on Saturday. Picture By Hugh Russell
Nikki McKeown

CANCER patient and runner Rosy Ryan reached a milestone at the weekend: completing her 100th Parkrun event at Waterworks Park in Belfast on Saturday morning, despite being given just a year to live back in 2007.

Chicago-born barrister Rosy, who moved to Belfast when she was nine years-old, was diagnosed with secondary pancreatic cancer in 2007.

From the outset, her disease was deemed terminal and the only thing doctors could do was slow down the growth.

However, Rosy made a promise to herself to make the most of every day, to give positivity and help other people through volunteering and charity work.

Speaking to The Irish News a couple of days before the Waterworks event, Rosy explained how she first discovered she was ill.

"I hadn’t been feeling well for a while but the doctors insisted that I was too heavy," she said.

"On a trip to the states, I went for a scan and found out something was there. I came back to Northern Ireland and had part of my pancreas, liver and spleen removed.

"The treatment is quite up and down and I’ve been on continual chemotherapy, taking pills every day. I’m a stubborn person and I train through my treatment as much as I can. I have to be very careful – but it could be worse."

Rosy completed her first Parkrun on New Year’s Day in 2015 after being persuaded to take part by a friend – she admits that the conversation took place around 3am on New Year’s Eve.

Her partner, Phillip, initially thought she was a bit mad but he soon got involved after seeing how much enjoyment she got from it.

Speaking just before completing her 100th Parkrun, which also saw organisers attempting to set a record for the best attended Parkrun in Ireland in her honour, Rosy said she just wanted to see people come together and enjoy themselves.

"I want people to know that a Parkrun is a walk or a jog," she told me.

"We don’t close up until the last person comes in. The run isn't recognition for the illness, it's more about the milestones when you reach your 50th, 100th and 250th.

"Lots of people run, but they told me I might not live a year – so the 100th is big, because I genuinely wasn’t sure whether I would make it. It's recognition that the illness hasn’t gotten me yet."

Rosy and Phillip are part of the North Belfast Harriers running club and have completed 10ks, half marathons and park-runs in London, Australia, America and France.

As well as participating in races, Rosy regularly fundraises through running.

"A week after completing the London half marathon, we took part in a relay in the Belfast marathon," she explains.

"We were raising money for the children’s cancer unit in The Royal, so I did the five mile leg at the end.

"I love to volunteer at races because I feel I’m able to give back. I like to encourage people, even those at the front – sometimes you just need one person telling you that you can do it and they will set you off again."

On the side, Rosy is also trying to raise money for the Belfast Tandem cycling group who encourage local blind and partially sighted people to tandem cycle and compete.

She has also raised money for Pancreatic Cancer UK, and Rosy's charity work this year is dedicated to helping the homeless with The Welcome Centre, something she says is very close to all of us.

"You hear more and more of this happening and people with mental health problems who are lost by the system and lost by us," she says.

"The main thing is that these runs are inclusive they are for everyone, [on Saturday] we have three visually impaired people coming with their guide runners. They are absolutely amazing people."

Rosy's friend and Waterworks Parkrun volunteer Damian McNairney says the American is inspiring and remains "the same old Rosy" who always has a big smile on her face.

"Two of the other runners have had cancer diagnoses and she has completely taken them under her wing," he says.

"They would go to her for advice and she is extremely supportive and has time for everyone."

:: Parkrun.org.uk/waterworks

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