Growing up Eleanor Wheeler and her brother Jonathan were like “two peas in a pod”. The Stourbridge brother and sister did everything together: “There was four years between us but we were very close; I wanted to be just like him,” remembers Eleanor.
But when their dad died of pancreatic cancer in 2011, Jonathan did his best to stay strong for the family. “We were only 14 and 18 at the time and Jon tried to carry on as normal,” she recalls. “It caught up with him at university and he suffered mental health issues for a number of years.
“He tried lots of different treatments and therapies but it was only when he was offered a new job opportunity as a wine sommelier earlier this year that he seemed to turn everything around. Suddenly we noticed a massive difference in him; it was like having our ‘old Jon’ back”.
Sadly in April, Eleanor, aged 20, got the news that Jonathan had committed suicide – he was just 24 years old. “I went back to university on the Monday and had a phone call on the Tuesday to tell me he had died. It was so unexpected – if I’d have been told that news a couple of years earlier it would have been easier to believe, but it was so hard to take in knowing the person he had become.”
Bravely, Eleanor, who has recently graduated from Norwich University, decided to use her grief to help others and along with a group of friends and family she has signed up to run the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run in October to raise funds for MIND, a nationwide charity which works to ensure that no-one has to face mental health problems alone.
As one of the UK’s biggest half marathons, the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run is expected to attract thousands of participants on Sunday, October 14. With a new starting position on Broad Street, the event will take runners to Highfield Road in Edgbaston and down ‘The Hill’ of Lee Bank Middleway. Participants will then do a lap of Cannon Hill Park and world-famous Edgbaston Stadium before taking in picturesque Bournville and heading back to the city centre to finish in front cheering spectators at the Aston University Campus Charity Village.
The 13.1-mile run also features the popular Business Challenge, which invites office teams to compete for fastest-time trophies and helps CSR commitments, raising funds for company charities or foundations, or simply boosting office morale.
“Jon was massively into his fitness – he was always looking at himself in the mirror and working out. When I started running I couldn’t even run for a minute,” Eleanor explains. “But bit by bit I started to improve. I remember texting Jon when I managed ten minutes without stopping.”
Since his death, she has found that running has been a great help with her coming to terms with losing her brother, using the time to think and reflect. “Being on my own for 30 minutes or an hour has been a real escape for me and has given me precious time in the day to process my emotions. It’s a way of escaping – if I’m having a bad day I go out for a run. I wish that Jon had been able to find that kind of escape.
“My friends and family are running the Great Birmingham Run not as a race but as a personal challenge to us all. It’s not about being the fastest to finish; it’s about doing it as a group and remembering Jon together,” she adds.
To sign up for the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run half marathon