A Durham dad is taking on the Great North Run as part of an epic 4200km challenge in 2022 to raise funds for the North East Autism Society and the Alan Shearer Foundation.
38-year-old Craig Huddart will be running 10km every day and a half marathon every Sunday – 81km a week in total – for his three boys who all have autism, and to raise funds for two charities close to the family’s heart.
Craig explains, “Autism affects the boys in different ways. My youngest Teddy, 4, has severe autism, is non-verbal and has no danger perception. He has extreme sensory issues and struggles in environments that aren’t familiar. Ted has rigid thought patterns and behaviours and can suffer from ‘meltdowns’ if he’s stressed or unhappy. People perceive this as ‘temper tantrums’, but it’s Ted way of expression when he’s unhappy.
“My middle son Finn, 10, has DiGeorge Syndrome, a genetic condition stemming from a chromosome deletion. Finn has various symptoms including specific facial features, developmental delays, shortened muscles, learning problems and a serious heart condition, due to only one side of his heart working.
“Finn is due to have open-heart surgery within the next 6-12 months, this will be an extension of life rather than a permanent fix. Finn has autism, which is symptomatic of DiGeorge Syndrome. Finn’s autism displays itself through rigid thought patterns/behaviours, ticks and social stresses.
“My eldest son, Alf, 11, also has autism, which can display in sensory issues and social unease/anxiety.”
“Our children are unique, creative, funny and intelligent individuals. Autism makes them this way. Although some days can be very difficult, this is how they are and they express themselves in ways that other children simply couldn’t do.”
Craig is raising funds for the North East Autism Society (NEAS) who offer services including; education for children aged 3-19 and social and vocational training and employment opportunities for autistic adults. They provide year-round residential placements and work directly with parents and carers to offer family support including short breaks, home support and evening and weekend activities.
NEAS operate three specialist schools for children aged 3-19 in County Durham and Sunderland and a further education specialist college in County Durham, a new specialist school is opening in Stockton-on-Tees in September 2022.
Craig is also supporting the Alan Shearer Foundation, which directly supports the Alan Shearer Centre in Newcastle. This highly specialist centre offers residential, respite and social provision for people with complex disabilities and acute sensory impairments.
Craig explains, “The foundation needs at least £250,000 a year to provide free sensory and specialist leisure activities and free and subsidised respite breaks, for profoundly disabled children and adults.
“It is a specialist resource for disabled people of all ages, catering to a wide spectrum of need. Facilities are completely free to use and include a hydrotherapy suite, sensory rooms and cave, a giant ball pool, a music room, seasonal activities and a café.
“Our children love visiting the centre. It’s quiet, accessible and there’s absolutely no judgement; for them it’s a relaxing and stress-free environment where they can be themselves.”
Craig grew up in South Shields and he’s looking forward to some much-needed home town support at a critical point in the challenge. “The challenge is going well so far; I can feel my fitness returning slowly and I’m really starting to get into a rhythm. I’m not going to lie though, the constant nature is starting to take its toll on my body, some aches and pains have started to creep in and I’m very tired most days!
“I will be well past the half way point when I take on the Great North Run. I’m looking forward to running alongside so many other dedicated individuals, with their own stories and reasons. I’m also looking forward to highlighting the work of two amazing charities.
“Aside from fundraising the aim of this challenge is to raise awareness and acceptance of autism. There is still such a stigma around it and all I ask is that people see beyond it and see the amazing people, adults and children, behind that ‘wall’. They don’t judge you, so please don’t judge them. If this challenge only raised a small amount of money, but increased awareness and understanding, then to me it’s been worthwhile and successful.”
If you’ve been inspired to enter this year’s Great North Run the ballot is open until 9am on Monday 21 February. Register now here, to be in with a chance of grabbing a place at the UK’s most loved running event.