Ron Hill, who ran every day for 52 years, now facing uphill race against Alzheimer’s
‘I don’t wake up feeling sad or anything like that. I sleep like a baby’
Ron Hill, with his wife May. Photograph: Rob Stewart/Alzheimer’s Society/PA
Olympic marathoner Ron Hill has said he will use the determination that fuelled his extraordinary running career to help him fight Alzheimer’s disease.
The 79-year-old, who ran at least a mile every day for more than 52 years, vowed not to be ashamed or embarrassed of dementia, which he called “the biggest challenge of my life”.
Hill, of Hyde, Greater Manchester, said he was struggling to remember what day of the week it was, but that he could clearly recall his glory days which “always bring a smile to my face”.
“Dementia is the biggest challenge of my life but it isn’t the end of the road by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “I can’t be ashamed of it because I haven’t done anything to deserve it. No one does. It’s there and I can’t rub it better or run it off like a minor niggle – or get better with rest or physiotherapy like I would with a running injury.
“I won’t let it stop me in my tracks, so to speak. I don’t wake up feeling sad or anything like that. I sleep like a baby. So I’ll cheerfully carry on keeping active and, hopefully, this will give other people the impression that dementia is nothing to be frightened by and that there shouldn’t be any stigma attached to it. I don’t seem to remember anything short-term but I’ve got a feast of memories I can still get to and they can make me feel better.”
Lancashire-born Mr Hill competed at three Olympics – Tokyo in 1964, Mexico in 1968 and Munich in 1972 – before lending his name to a successful sportswear brand which has been a favourite of running enthusiasts for more than 40 years.
He won gold in the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in a then world-record time of two hours nine minutes and 28 seconds.
Hill used his first-hand running knowledge and career as a textile chemist to help set up Ron Hill Sports in September 1970. He was a pioneer in sportswear for his use of synthetic fabrics, many of which have been developed into the fabrics which are used in the latest generations of sports clothing.
By 2004 he had finished 115 marathons, according to British Athletics, and he was the first Briton to win the Boston Marathon in 1970. He ran his last one mile on January 28th, 2017, stopping after he felt a pain in his chest.
Preliminary tests by his GP indicate Hill has Alzheimer’s, which he is yet to have formally diagnosed. He will use the news to spur him on to get back running, John Lloyd, who is organising a fun run to raise money for the Alzeheimer’s Society, said.
The event will take part in Accrington, where Hill grew up, on April 22nd.
He is hoping his positive attitude will inspire others to “realise it’s not a death sentence”.
“It’s just so sad because Ron’s as fit as a fiddle and he’s the last person you would expect to develop dementia,” said his wife, May. “It just shows that dementia doesn’t care who you are – but it won’t stop us being happy and I know we’ll deal with whatever it throws at us, together as a team with family and friends.”