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DJ to take on marathon in mother's memory

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 25, 2014

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A popular broadcaster is leaving his microphone behind and running the London Marathon this year in memory of his mother, who developed rheumatoid arthritis when he was just a child.

BBC Wiltshire's Ashley Heath has spoken movingly about how arthritis "robbed" him of his mother, and how he became her primary carer from a young age.

Now, almost 40 years on, Mr Heath is in training for the longest race of his life, and said the memories of his mum will keep him going around the long miles of London.

"My mum, or Ruth, developed rheumatoid arthritis in 1976 at the age of 48," he said.

"I was 11 then but even so, I don't really remember mum without arthritis.

"I remember the terribly curled hands and painfully swollen knuckles. I remember the callipers. I remember the cries of pain, and the crying," he added.

"In her younger years, Mum was a commercial traveller in theatre, travelling thousands of miles a year when that was unusual for women.

"Mum was a free spirit, always moving.

"Indeed, she needed to keep moving. Familiar surroundings soon lost their appeal with the enticing prospect of the new always around the corner.

"But arthritis caged Mum. She spent hours a day in her chair, the tedium leading her to sleep a lot," he added.

The young Mr Heath, now a well-known broadcaster on BBC Wiltshire and BBC Swindon, said he had to go from being a child to the role of parent immediately, following the death of his father a few years later, and it was not until he saw a colleague's relationship with his mother only a few years ago, that he realised what he'd lost. After my dad died in 1983, I became primary care giver. It's a task I still look back on with dissatisfaction. I could have done more.

"I've realised that arthritis didn't only imprison my mum but it also fundamentally changed our relationship. When her condition first hit, my errand and helping-round-the-house quotient began to build, as you'd expect.

"After my Dad's death, my responsibilities grew and, to a great extent, I became the parental unit. I went from child to carer with not much in between.

"I think this only became plain to me a number of years ago, when a colleague's mother would come into our studios, where she volunteered. I realised that here was a man, roughly my age, who enjoyed a mature, equal friendship with his mother. I wondered what that must be like, and envied him," he said.

Now, Mr Heath said he has been inspired to run the marathon for Arthritis Research UK after learning that some ten million people are affected by arthritis, and 400,000 people nationally have rheumatoid arthritis, the most debilitating condition that often starts in 40-somethings.

"A lot of what I remember of Mum's arthritis speaks of the time she suffered it. Understanding of the condition and its treatment has moved on," he said.

"I'm sure that women aged under 50 with arthritis have more options today but that's only come about through expensive research. That's why I'm fundraising for Arthritis Research UK.

"Having said all that, arthritis didn't rob Mum of one very special quality; her smile. Despite the pain and limitations I still remember Mum's wide, open and genuine smile. That'll keep me going round London," he added.

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