GMR 20 Stories – Kirsty Howard

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The AJ Bell Great Manchester Run in 2023 will be the 20th staging of the event. In recognition of this incredible milestone, we’re looking back on 20 unforgettable stories from two decades of running in the capital of the North.

For many people, one of the most enduring images of the run will be that of Kirsty Howard and her incredible team of supporters. Kirsty was born with a rare heart defect. She was given just weeks to live at the age of four.
Throughout her remarkable life, Kirsty, from Wythenshawe, Manchester, raised more than £7.5m for Manchester’s Francis House Children’s Hospice, before she passed away at age 20 in 2015. She attracted world attention when she joined David Beckham in launching the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002.

Reflecting on the Kirsty Club’s involvement with the Great Manchester Run, David Ireland, CEO of Francis House Children’s Hospice, said, “The involvement of Francis House Children’s Hospice in the Great Manchester Run came about through Susie Mathis and the Kirsty Appeal.

“Kirsty Howard was a remarkable little girl born with a rare life-limiting condition, and her courage and smile made her the face of Francis House. Following her impactful appearance at the Commonwealth Games, the Kirsty Appeal was chosen as the charity for the first Great Manchester Run.”

Ireland went on to recall Kirsty’s first experience of the Great Manchester Run, saying, “Kirsty was oxygen dependent and used an electric wheelchair. Dressed in her running gear, Kirsty joined the start line of young runners at the very first children’s race in May 2003. Her wheelchair, however, wasn’t equipped for speed, and she was quickly overtaken by the others. However, she was at the finishing line of the seniors’ race, cheering them on!”

The Great Manchester Run quickly became an important fundraising event for the Kirsty Appeal and the Kirsty Club, with many runners choosing to support the charity. Ireland noted, “Celebrity backing from the stars of Emmerdale, Bryan Robson, and later Coronation Street gave the appeal a major boost, and it became clear that the Great Manchester Run was going to be a major fundraising event for the charity.”

For Francis House, the involvement in the campaign was hugely significant, with Kirsty Howard playing a key role in raising awareness and funds for the hospice. “Kirsty Howard made a huge impact as a fundraiser for Francis House. She raised millions for the hospice in Didsbury where she received respite care from 3 ½ years of age.

“She was proud to wear her Number 1 running shirt, especially the one presented to her by David Beckham for the third run! The outpouring of support for Kirsty from the spectators continued over future years and kept Francis House very much in hearts and minds of the public,” Ireland said.

Despite Kirsty’s passing in 2015, the Great Manchester Run remains an important event for Francis House, with runners continuing to sign up and raise sponsorship for the hospice. Ireland noted,
“Hundreds of children, young people, and their families owe a tremendous debt to a remarkable young woman. Dozens of runners continue to sign up and run-in support of Francis House, and the atmosphere in the city canter is always incredible. This year, a large team from Siemens is taking part, dressed in their eye-catching red, blue, and green Francis House running vests.”

Looking to the future, the Great Manchester Run will continue to be an important event for Francis House, with the hospice delighted to be involved as long as people want to run and raise sponsorship. As Ireland said, “As long as people want to run for Francis House and raise sponsorship, the hospice is delighted to be at this iconic Manchester event.”

Be part of a spectacular running celebration in the heart of Manchester on Sunday 21 May 2023, celebrating 20 years of the AJ Bell Great Manchester Run. Whether you take on the 10k or Half Epic challenge, you’ll line up on the iconic Portland Street start line and feel the goosebumps as you and 25,000 other runners follow the famous route, pass Manchester landmarks and set your sights on Deansgate for a grandstand finish. With live music and entertainment zones at every turn, roaring charity cheering squads, plus the incredible local support who line the streets to cheer you on, it’ll be a party from start to finish.

For more information or to enter today click here.