Emma Kessie: The ‘Chat And Run’ Marathon
Written by Stella Nicholls
Photography by Nick Hook
‘I thought they said “rum”!’
I’ve always thought that it takes a special kind of person to run a marathon. Someone with extreme stamina and the will to keep going. Someone that can push pain to the back of their mind and push through. Sadly, I’m not one of those people, but I recently met a woman who is. She never seems to stop or give up and is such an inspiring person to chat to and I left her feeling that, maybe, one day, I could actually get off my couch and run 5ks.
Emma Kessie recently ran the London Marathon with her twin sister (Dressed as Super Mario and Luigi) raising funds for HFT, a charity that supports people with learning disabilities. She was honest in her feedback about the run, saying that it was hard and hot and there were occasions when they needed to walk, rehydrate and gather themselves. They did it though, and Emma, mother of five, seems to carry this grit and determination into her everyday life. A remarkable woman!
Emma, who recently took on the Sports Development Manager role at Legacy Leisure, says that it’s all about going into the local community and setting up projects to get people more active. Having worked her way up in the leisure industry over the last twenty years, Emma has always had a passion to help people.
She started the Couch to 5K initiative, a volunteer scheme for her local school, which was highly successful. This progressed to an evening event for mums to get some ‘time out’ for a few hours. Having started the scheme in January last year, it has grown from strength to strength with around four hundred people going through in a year. She recently ran a marathon with a couple who did the Couch to 5K just last January. That’s impressive!
Curious as to how you maintain the stamina to complete a 26-odd mile marathon, Emma replied that is has taken her time and practice. She enjoys running, having run fifteen marathons this year alone, one of which was an impressive 50-mile run, she says, ‘You just get on with it!’. She is also spurred on by the thoughts of having some meaningful ‘me’ time during her runs. On raising five children, she jokes that it’s a bit of ‘time out, see you later, let daddy do the work’. I’m starting to see the appeal!
She loves watching people progress, change their shape or their well-being. A few have mental health issues and, through running, have felt an improvement in that they can ‘run it off’ and they also enjoy the social network that it creates. She says that they aren’t a running club, as such, it is more a ‘chat and run’ kind of group. A place where people interact, make friends and feel part of something, creating camaraderie.
Emma was recently asked to be an ambassador for the ‘This Girl Can’ initiative – a nationwide campaign to get women and girls moving, regardless of shape, size and ability. She helped promote it, organised some female-only groups, and got the chance to go to Westminster with other Active Devon members. She also watched the ‘premier’ of the ‘This Girl Can’ advert before it was broadcast live and says that it was a great experience to go and meet different councils and see what projects they are putting on.
Time (or the lack of it) is one of the main challenges that she faces, but she overcomes this with the help of her very supportive husband. They both work long hours, so work together as a ‘tag team’ where they alternate taking care of the ‘everyday’ involved in running a family. With five children ranging from 9 to 14, (she had ‘five under five’), it almost puts running a marathon into the ‘less challenging’ category. Almost, but not quite.
With over two hundred medals, Emma is definitely a powerhouse (I chuckled to myself at this point, because when I asked Emma how many medals she has, she replied, ‘Around two ….’ And I thought, oh two or three, that’s fairly good and then she added ‘hundred!’). I was impressed by her ‘matter of fact’ tenacity, whilst at the same time, managing to remain approachable and she is so ‘down to earth’. With such a busy schedule, I knew I was pushing it, a little, to ask if she had a favourite book, or even had time to read. She laughed and said, ‘If I’ve got a spare half an hour, I’d quite happily go to bed!’ Oh, the luxury of sleep in a busy parent’s world.
Getting a thank you card or a note saying that she has helped someone to rise above their circumstances and helped them turn their life around is a real high point for Emma. She realises that it’s not only her doing but she has helped them draw on their own inner strength to succeed. These people are, in turn, going out, leading and teaching, setting up their own groups – a positive cycle of activity.
She believes that it is important to accept people for who they are, regardless of race, gender, ability or health. We shouldn’t judge each other harshly as everyone has ‘something’, no one has got it all together. We’re all running the ‘marathon of life’.
Admiring the resilience of people that she comes into contact with, some who are struggling with illnesses, such as cancer, is inspiring. She is humbled by the courage that they exhibit and that they ‘just get on with it’, making the most of each day.
I asked Emma if she has always enjoyed running, she responded that even when her children were little, and she lived in London, you would often see her running with a double buggy or running to work. As part of her new role, working alongside the council, she hopes to go into work places and help business people become more active. (My couch potato days are numbered!).
With achieving her first fifty-mile race recently, doing the Grizzly this year during blizzards and snow and having completed several triathlons, she certainly is a great example and a perfect ambassador for staying active. She also has her sights set on the ‘Ironman’ (or should that be ‘Ironwoman’) triathlon!
Anyone up for a run?