The sudden death of her brother, Pekka, at the age of 38, gave Maija the incentive she needed to get fit. She entered The Great North Run, and as well as helping her deal with grief, running saw her go from a size 20 to a size 12
"I’d been a 100m/200m runner for my county as a child, and was very active before I fell pregnant in 2002. Pregnancy was horrible – I was severely sick, lost weight, then hormones kicked in and I piled it back on.
“I did all the things people do when they put on weight: relied on ready meals, ate large portions, snacked on crisps, chocolate, sweets, biscuits and fizzy drinks. And I hid myself in baggy clothes.
“But I had to come out of denial! And it was shopping for a friend’s wedding that did it. I discovered I was a size 20. I hadn’t weighed myself and had a mental image of myself as being, okay, (when I saw the scales tip over 100kg I’d jumped off!)
“I fell pregnant again later that year and was concentrating on battling the horrendous sickness. Then, in January 2006, my brother died very suddenly – and everything changed.
“He had been born with a hole in heart in 1967 and things looked bleak. But he survived. It was a lifetime battle with palpitations. Eventually, although he didn’t like the idea, and had even tried radical surgery to avoid it, he gave into having a pacemaker. And his health improved.
“Then, one Sunday in January 2006 he stepped out of his car, slipped and hit his head, and lost consciousness.
“He drove to work the next morning but felt sick. On Wednesday he was diagnosed with concussion. On Thursday his head was bright red, so he went to A&E and was given painkillers. By Friday he felt better and said he would pick up some more painkillers at the hospital on the way to see his girlfriend. He didn’t leave the hospital.
“On Saturday night he started to loose consciousness and had to be put into a medicated coma as his brain was swollen. Mum missed the answerphone message and when she heard it the next morning, she assumed he’d be in cardiology. She was passed around by the switchboard until finally, a person answered, ‘Intensive Care’.
“On Wednesday the swelling had eased off. But on Thursday night they couldn’t stablise his blood pressure. Then, on Friday my beloved brother passed away. My family are all in Finland and I was told by telephone. I felt like I’d been stabbed and someone was twisting the knife.
“We were told later that the fittest person in the world wouldn’t have survived with that kind of head injury.”
“The grief never goes away. I can tell 124 people about it, then I tell the 125th and it’s like the scab is pulled off and the wound is fresh. Like now. I am writing this with tears falling off my face....
“My son was born in August 2006. I was hell-bent on surviving. But I was now a size 20/22 and tired. I was a hermit and life was spent looking after my family and keeping an immaculate house. That’s not living, is it?
“A year after Pekka’s death, an email from a friend (who said she was doing a Race For Life) prompted me into action. I’d gone to Uni in Newcastle and had lived next to the start of The Great North Run. I found out that the race was on September 30th 2007 – what would have been Pekka’s 40th birthday. It was a sign.
“I started running on April 1st 2007. I made beginner’s mistakes, like running too fast. I could run for five to10 minutes then walk. From the start, I ran first thing when there was no one around to laugh at me!
“When I first looked at the beginner’s half marathon schedule, I nearly cried, I thought I could never run for 30 minutes, let alone a half marathon.
“The Great North Run was the best day I’d had since my brother died. It was emotional. It was hard. But I felt like I had won an Olympic gold!
“Running is now part of my life. I run four times a week and I’m a size 12. This year’s challenge is for my aunt and godfather who both have Alzheimer’s. My plan is to race 250k in several races. I’ve entered 27 races (now the total is 300k!) and so far I’ve done 15 races. Just three half marathons, a duathlon and a 10-miler to come!
Visit: www.justgiving. com/Maija-Bissett
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