A celebrated British Paralympian who was diagnosed with eye cancer shortly after his first birthday before eventually losing his vision will be taking part in the inaugural Birmingham International Marathon.
Darren Harris, from Sutton Coldfield, represented Great Britain in judo at Beijing 2008, and in football at London 2012.
He represented his country 125 times at football and scored 31 times, winning silver at the World Games in Seoul in 2015, becoming the most decorated blind footballer in British history, before retiring from international football.
The father of one is now a patron for the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary, and will be taking on his second marathon in Birmingham on Sunday, October 15, to help raise awareness of the cancer.
The 44-year-old, who grew up in Wolverhampton and worked in IT for ten years, is a mentor for the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, which uses leading athletes to empower young people facing disadvantage.
Darren suffered from Retinoblastoma, a type of eye cancer that affects young children, mainly under the age of six. It develops in the cells of the retina, the light sensitive lining of the eye. Around 50-60 cases are diagnosed in the UK every year – approximately one child a week. Retinoblastoma can either affect one or both eyes.
Retinoblastoma has one of the best cure rates of all the childhood cancers. In the UK, around 98 per cent of children will survive but early diagnosis is important, a message Darren is keen to relay through public-speaking at corporate events and schools.
“I was born with normal vision but when I was about 15 months old I was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a cancer, and had it in both eyes,” explains Darren.
“The extreme radiation treatment I had saved my life but it destroyed my sight, which, over the years got worse and worse.
“I still had a very small amount of usable vision into my 20s and sport became a big part of my life.
“At first I was in denial about losing my sight. I didn’t believe it would go. I pretended it wouldn’t go and carried on as normal.
“When I knew I was losing my sight I became angry and frustrated. I got into trouble and excluded from school.
“Sport became my outlet and focus. I played loads of football as a kid. I also ran for a club and did judo.
“I knew I couldn’t become a Paralympian by training a few nights a week so I gave up my job to commit to sport.
“It was a huge decision. My friends thought I was nuts!
“I qualified for Beijing as a rank outsider. I drew the then world champion in the first round. He was better than me, but it was still an amazing experience.”
During his competitive career and then after retirement, Darren began mentoring personal development through the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust.
“The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust is really keen on the resilience and transferable skills athletes have.
“That focus, resilience, motivation and determination athletes carry are relevant in how we develop as people,” he adds.
“In addition to my mentoring I’m really passionate about coaching. I love the idea of leading by example and inspiring but coaching is truly transformational, with long-term change.”
The Birmingham International Marathon has now closed for general entries after securing more than 9,000 sign-ups.
Runners who missed out are encouraged to sign up for the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run half marathon, which takes place on the same day as the Marathon. All Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run participants will have access to a guaranteed entry window to the 2018 Birmingham International Marathon.
In its first year the Birmingham International Marathon is already one of the UK’s top five 26.2-mile challenges.
Starting at the famous Alexander Stadium, the home of British Athletics, the course will take in the city’s most iconic landmarks before finishing in the city centre.
The Birmingham International Marathon will be Darren’s second 26.2-mile race, after completing his first more than 20 years ago.
“I can’t wait,” he said.
“It’s a Birmingham run, I live here, and I’m involved with the Boldmere Bullets running club who will be there in force.
“They’re a great bunch who are making leaps and bounds so I’m delighted to be there with them on the day,” added Darren.