The girlfriend of an Olympic architect who died during a half-marathon is running the London marathon to raise awareness of sudden cardiac death in young people.
Fiona Barnes, 27, told how “my world was obliterated” when her boyfriend of five years James Phillips, 27, collapsed and died near the finish line of the Reigate half-marathon last September.
She has used the training for the London race on April 26 to overcome the “indescribable pain and loss” of Mr Phillips’ death. She and best friend Suzy Kerton, who is also running the marathon, aim to raise £15,000 to fund hundreds of free heart checks for young Londoners.
Ms Barnes, from Amersham, recalled how she and Mr Phillips spent hours cheering on runners at last year’s London marathon. “I’ll never forget James turning to me and saying, ‘Let’s do this together before we are 30,’” she told the Standard. “Then Reigate happened and my world was obliterated.”
The three were part of a group of about 40 friends who ran the half-marathon and who looked on in horror as paramedics tried in vain to save Mr Phillips’ life. Ms Barnes followed Ms Kerton in being accepted to run London for the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) in his memory.
“It all fell into place, from James saying ‘let’s do this race together’, to the fact that CRY is such a fantastic, life-saving charity I’d never known existed before, and I found this drive to raise both money for them and awareness of the work they do,” Ms Barnes said.
“Training for the marathon has definitely helped me to cope with the impact of James’ death. It’s given me a huge goal and a real focus which – along with the amazing love and support of my friends and family – I honestly think has got me through the past six months.
“I love the freedom of running, I love how it clears my head, I love how I can escape the grief and sadness of losing James and find a place where I don’t really feel anything other than a bit of physical pain towards the end of a long run.”
CRY estimates 16 young Britons die each week from sudden cardiac death. About 90 per cent of victims are like Mr Phillips and display no symptoms.
Mr Phillips, who lived in Battersea, was an accomplished architect whose firm Make helped design the London 2012 athletes’ village. The BBC, where Ms Barnes works in human resources, has helped raise more than £3,000, with sports presenter John Inverdale hosting a pub quiz.
She and Ms Kerton, hope a silent disco at Mahiki nightclub on May 9 will help them reach their fundraising target. Each heart check offered by CRY costs £35.
“What happened to James was so untimely, so unnatural and there is no explanation for those of us left behind,” Ms Barnes said. “James deserved to have the full and happy life he was looking forward to and he would have continued living it to the full every day. To lose him in such a shocking way at such a young age has been absolutely devastating.
“If we can raise enough money in James’ memory to fund 300 heart checks then I will feel like I have saved a life, and I’ll have stopped one family going through the indescribable pain and loss that James’ family, friends and I are going through.”
Ms Kerton, 27, from East Acton, said: “If someone had done it for us, maybe James would still be here.”
* An edited version of this article appears in today’s Evening Standard.
* To donate, visit: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/jamesyp