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A short story of life, death and running.

I watched a Lorraine Kelly documentary last night (15th November) about the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 and listened intently about how she and many others affected by the tragedy coped back in the 80's by supressing their feelings and just shut out what they had witnessed.


So many people saw first hand the absolute horror of the worst terrorist attack in UK history and yet they absorbed so many emotions and just... locked them all away, including Lorraine herself.


Her recollections of her own 'on the spot' reporting seemed distorted and hazy almost as if she had created in her own mind a more santised view of the absolute death and destruction she had witnessed.


Strange the way the mind plays tricks...


The documentary brought back a personal shudder as I thought back to this fateful December evening. For just a few weeks earlier I had been on that PANAM Flight 103. I was returning from the New York Marathon on the same plane and on the same flight path.


I had been raising money for Myrtle Street hospital as my eldest daughter who was just 10 months old at the time had had a successful heart operation and I had been enjoying life in the Big Apple. It started me thinking about fate and the critical paths we take in life and yet so much of what we do is down to luck because sometimes we just can't control things beyond our control however much we think we can.


I could have been on that flight if the terrorists had chosen a different date...the date of my flight rather than December 21st. If they did then how different would life be for me and all the people I know today? My wife Yvonne, my daughter Abbie, the races we put on, the many friends we have made through running. None of what we take for granted would exist and you would be equally leading slightly different lives because you wouldn't have taken part in the Liverpool Half Marathon or the Tour or the Santa Dash. 


Now that just sounds plain weird doesn't it? So I count myself fortunate to have not been on that flight on that particular date but if you sit and think for just a minute about the consequences... well it's made me appreciate even more what I've been doing over the last 35 years. Because everything I believe in, everything I aspire to, everything I love doing... it all revolves around running and yet this fabulous pastime we all love COULD have claimed me early if only for a different date choice.


So fate played a hand and those of us that were on PANAM 103 who came back from the New York Marathon all came back with stories of achievement and excitement and are no doubt still dining out on how well we did in the Big Apple. And yet such a short time later so many people lost their lives in such tragic circumstances.


A big part of the documentary was about how so many people managed their own grief and not long after Lockerbie we had our own tragedy which was much closer to home... at Hillsborough. A bit like Lorraine I have my own vivid memories of where I was when I first heard the news and like everyone else couldn't believe what I was hearing. Instinctively I went down to Anfield early the next morning and watched as a steady stream of people stood silently wondering just what to do. The scarves began to be laid and flowers grew up the massive Kop terrace and across the bright green Anfield turf.


I had my two kids with me who were very young at the time and they have no recollection of the day but my own deepest thoughts contrasted with their innocence and blissful ignorance of what had happened less than 24 hours earlier.

I don't know why I went, I just did. It was instinctive.


My allegiance to the blue half meant absolutely nothing as these were people from my city... and a bit like my New York trip and a quirk of fate... if my father had been a red then I could have been at Hillsborough. It's just another example of the twists of fate that affect us in life or just pass us by.


Over the years I have often thought about New York and Hillsborough as probably the bleakest two periods in my life and again a bit like Lorraine I just managed to pack away any negative feelings about these two major incidents because that was the way I could deal with them.


Now fast forward to the introduction of (what was) the 96/5K some nine years ago when I was asked if I could host the event. I was absolutely delighted to take this on because this gave me my opportunity to address my own thoughts and demons about April 15th 1989. I felt proud that in some way I could help others 'celebrate' the lives of all those who were lost that day. I think I helped a lot of people and at the same time the event helped me.


So in a curious way my running has helped me cope with tragedy, fate and everything in between and even more so helped me appreciate my wife, my daughter, my running friends and the events that I have delivered over the last 30 odd years.


As it says on the BTR envelopes... RUN. RACE. ENJOY.... because you ever know what life has in store for you.


With deepest thoughts for all those affected by the Lockerbie and Hillsborough events.

Alan Rothwell - BTR Liverpool


Left to Right: John Evans, Sally Bell, Alan Rothwell with Molly Rothwell, two nurses from the Myrtle Street hospital and Keith Barnes with a cheque for the money raised from our participating in the New York Marathon.

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