Laura Stephenson (BA 2008) has signed up to run Cardiff Half Marathon in October in memory of her friend Areesha. She’s raising money for Cardiff University’s cancer research and was inspired by her friend’s strength in the face of a devastating diagnosis, and ‘say yes to everything’ attitude.
I was active and sporty from a young age. I was also – and remain – incredibly competitive. From cycling, roller blading, football, netball and hockey – you name it, I gave it a go. The one thing I never tried was running. It wasn’t for me.
At 23, I discovered roller derby – a full contact sport played on quad skates – which I played for six years. As well as improved strength and fitness, skating gave me a wonderful friendship group. We were thrown together as teammates, but we’ve stayed close – no longer simply friends from skating, but close friends. Those who’ve stood alongside each other as we got married, had babies, nursed broken hearts, bought houses and, most recently, as we comforted one another after losing one of our gang, Areesha (Reesh). She was 35.
Reesh was a force to be reckoned with. She was ambitious, confident, and competitive. She was loud, dramatic, talkative, and effortlessly funny – often without meaning to be. She was unapologetically herself and made friends with everyone she met. Reesh said yes to every opportunity that came her way. She is the only person I know who has had multiple once-in-a-lifetime holidays and who can’t possibly know what FOMO is because she never… well, missed out! I am so glad that she lived that way.
In March 2021, Reesh was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She believed that the best way to face treatment was to think positively. And, outwardly at least, she did. She threw herself into raising money for charity and exploring treatments that might help. We were her cheerleaders– staying positive on the days she couldn’t and still doing ‘normal’ things. She didn’t want to be defined by her illness, so we made sure she wasn’t.
Sadly, on 19 February 2022, Reesh passed away. I’ve never felt a loss like it. I can’t bring myself to say that she ‘lost’ her battle with cancer because I don’t like the implication. If cancer was a thing that could be beaten, then someone with Reesh’s strength and determination would do it. And within our group of pals, including managers, coaches, engineers, strategists and statisticians, we’d have come up with a game plan and got it done. But that’s not how this works.
So, inspired by Reesh’s ‘say yes to everything’ attitude, buoyed by the reminder of how short life is, recognising that I’ve been taking my health and wellbeing for granted and feeling slightly jealous of the achievements of those who ran the half marathon in March (there’s that competitive edge coming through!), I signed up for the half marathon with #TeamCardiff to raise money for cancer research.
Aside from doing Couch to 5k in late 2021, after which I returned to the couch, I have never run before. I am not a runner. I am, however, goal oriented; if I set my mind to something, I get it done. I was daunted about training, but I’ve revisited C25K runs, found a tailored training plan, and one of our group has agreed to run it with me. The latter prompted me to start referring to the half marathon as a race – I can’t help it! I’ve even turned my fundraising into a competition.
I have been blown away by the generosity of those who’ve donated already. It adds extra fuel to my fire on those days where I don’t fancy lacing up my trainers or where the pull of an extra episode on Netflix is stronger than the urge to pound the pavement. I’ve had some great advice from friends about mixing up my running routes, so I don’t get bored, using podcasts for longer runs and experimenting with nutrition too. I’ve found some great running communities on Twitter.
It’s common for people who become unwell or who get life changing news to write a bucket list. That wasn’t necessary for Reesh because that is just how she lived – a lesson for us all, I think, and I hope that signing up to run the half marathon is the first step on my mission to #BeMoreReesh.
You can support Laura’s fundraising through her JustGiving page.
If you’d like to run Cardiff Half Marathon in memory, celebration, or simply to give yourself a challenge and get fit, apply for a free #TeamCardiff charity place.
#TeamCardiff fundraising supports Cardiff University’s neuroscience and mental health, and cancer research. By supporting the next generation of researchers, you can help accelerate life-changing discoveries to improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment for people living with a wide range of conditions.