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46-year-old Sonya Hughes from West Kilbride is a foster carer, who took up running to be a positive influence in her children's life. She is taking part in the Simplyhealth Great Stirling Run marathon event to continue to lead by example in her mission to inspire them to lead active lives.
With a granddaughter from her 28-year-old birth daughter, an adopted 18-year-old son and four long term foster children aged 8-15, running also gives Sonya some much needed headspace in her busy life.
“When we started fostering 17 years ago, me and my husband were the youngest foster carers in our county, North Ayrshire, normally they're quite a lot older.
“We had genuine reasons for doing it and both had professional jobs at the time, that we continued after we were approved.
“It sounds like a cliché, but we wanted to give underprivileged children an opportunity to see there is another life out there if you want it, and that we could help them get there.”
Sonya credits running with helping her manage a busy household and helping her children manage their own specific needs, which include ADHD, Dyspraxia and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, as well as general mental health issues stemming from their formative experiences.
“One of the reasons I run is, we have a very busy house, so you need time to yourself and I like to run it really relaxes me.
“If you've had a bit of a challenging time with the kids, you think right, ok, I can put the world to rights when I'm out running.”
Sonya and husband Robert also encourage and support all their children to run and stay active, to help them cope with the issues they face. As a family, they've seen massive benefits from making activity part of their everyday lives.
“I really can't advocate the health benefits enough, especially the kids. I don't think they'd be halfway where they are right now if it wasn't for getting them outdoors.
“For our foster child with Dyspraxia and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, doctors said they would never be able to do things like ride a bike, but just getting them out in the fresh air to exercise has made a huge difference to their life.
“They go horse-riding every week, they can ride their bike and a whole host of other things the medical profession said they wouldn't be able to do. It's amazing, I get goose bumps every time I think about it.”
“For another one of our children, who struggles emotionally, pushing them into running and sport allows them to express their emotions, burn off energy and deal with negative feelings in a constructive way.
“It shows them all they can do whatever they want to do, and be whoever they want to be.“
Sonya is a huge proponent for the benefits of exercise for young people and the importance of leading by example.
“When the children see me going out running, they'll say ‘it's raining', but I say – ‘we live in Scotland it rains every day!'
“These were kids who didn't used to be active, so as a family we go on long walks and try and encourage them to do a little bit every day.
“Running is totally free if you want it to be, a pair of trainers and off you go. A lot of households are struggling just now, there is a lot of poverty out there. If you're feeling stuck at home and there's issues in the house put on a pair of trainers and just go out for a jog.”
Sonya also sees running as an effective way to teach young people about perseverance, determination and celebrating your achievements.
“Completing an event is such a massive achievement, I did a 10k with one of our teenage children last year and they said it made them understand why I loved running so much.
“There's no pressure, you do it at your own pace, it wasn't like at school where you you're competing at PE and there's always someone better than you.
“Training for this marathon, the kids see that's it's been hard for me and they laugh when I complain, but they also see how I feel at the end of it. It gives them that feeling that you really can do whatever you want to do.”
Sonya knows the 26.1 mile marathon is going to be a challenge, but she's expecting some top encouragement from her support crew.
“The support you get from them is amazing, they came up to Glasgow when I did the half and just when I thought I couldn't be bothered, they were there cheering me on so I had to go for it, there's no way I can let these kids down!”
The Simplyhealth Great Stirling Run takes place on Sunday 28 April. Both Marathon and Half marathon events feature stunning scenic courses, taking in the local countryside, imposing castles and historic towns.
For more information or to enter visit greatrun.org/stirling