American runner to meet Hebburn “run buddy” of almost a decade for the first time at this year’s AJ Bell Great North Run

The 2023 AJ Bell Great North Run on Sunday 10 September will have the privilege of hosting Sir Mo Farah’s final competitive race. While his professional career has enthralled and inspired millions around the world, his personal story also demonstrates the power of running to change lives.

For Jodi Gilmour from Rockford Illinois, running has allowed her to have a profound effect on the life of a young boy named Toby Horner, who lives in Hebburn, Tyne and Wear. Toby, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at five months old, became Jodi’s “running buddy” after the two were matched through the Facebook group “I Run 4” in 2014.

This year she is running the AJ Bell Great North Run for the first time and finally meeting her buddy Toby in real life.

Jodi recalls, “I’ve been running most of my adult life. In 2013 I joined a Facebook group called I Run 4. They match runners with kids and adults with some kind of disability.

“In May of 2014 I was matched with my buddy Toby. Toby was 18 months old when we were matched and is now 10. I’ve been running for him this whole time.”

Since their match, Jodi has dedicated her various races, including runs and triathlons, to Toby, sending him all her race medals and helping raise funds for his equipment online. The connection has grown to become more than just a virtual friendship; it’s become a bond that transcends miles, shared between Jodi and Toby’s entire family.

“There have been plenty of times over the years when I didn’t feel like heading out for a run, but I remember I’m doing it for Toby and there I go,” says Jodi. “This is the trip of a lifetime for me, for more reasons than just the race.”

Toby’s mother, Tracey Horner, 38, has been so moved by the relationship between Jodi and her son that she wrote and published “The Little Falcon”, a story about kindness, friendship, and a little bird that couldn’t fly. Tracey reflects on Jodi’s dedication: “Jodi trains hard and competes in many different races across America, sending all the medals over to Toby.”

The extraordinary story of friendship will have a new chapter on Sunday, September 10th, as Jodi will participate in the Great North Run, fundraising for Toby’s school, the Percy Hedley Foundation. She will also be visiting Toby and his friends at school the week before the race to tell them all about her running adventures.

Jodi will be taking part in the 42nd Great North Run on Sunday 10 September alongside 60,000 other runners, making it the biggest half marathon in the world. The iconic course starts in Newcastle city centre and finishes 13.1 miles later in the coastal town of South Shields. Many runners will be taking part to support worthy causes, raising an estimated £25 million pounds for charity.

The event will be shown Live on BBC One from 10am until 2pm.