My name is Debbie Aldridge and I am 55 years old. I joined Run To Be in January 2016, having never run in my life before. What's so amazing about that, you may ask? Well - 13 years ago I was diagnosed with a retinal dystrophy which affects the cells of the retina and is a degenerative disease which affects eyesight.
In August 2015 I lost my driving licence due to my eyesight. In October 2015 I left my job of eight years and for the next few months I spiralled into depression. I wasn't working. I didn't go out and I felt very low. I had lost my independence and my eyesight was getting worse. I was told in December 2015 that I needed two cataract operations). By January 2016 I was at my lowest. Someone told me about 'Run To Be' - a local 0-5k running group. They said what a great group it was - friendly, helpful and welcoming.
I dismissed the idea out of hand. I couldn't run. I had never run. I couldn't even walk fast!
However the idea kept coming back to haunt me. I looked them up online and then closed the tab. I wrote messages and then deleted them. Finally I messaged Lindsey, the founder of the group, and told her of my concerns.
Firstly that I had never run before and was very unfit, and secondly that I couldn't see very well and my eyesight was getting worse. She telephoned me and told me to come along and try it. If I didn't like it she would refund my payment - what did I have to lose? I was so sure that I wouldn't be able to do it that I didn't tell anyone that I was going apart from my husband. I didn't even tell my daughters. I went to the first session and for health and safety reasons, Lindsey told the group about my poor eyesight.
One lady, Jane, came over to talk to me and she ran alongside me. I struggled so much. I had to stop and walk even though the run was only 1k. But I loved it and promised to go back the next week.
The mentors and the coach were so supportive. They were always upbeat and funny, and we laughed so much. They had so much faith in us - and that made us believe in ourselves. I went every week and Jane ran alongside me every week. Pointing out potholes, puddles, tree roots - anything that might cause me a problem. She was a star.
We were all due to run 5k on week 8 but I had a hospital appointment at Moorfields and was going to miss the run group. The coach and mentors all got together and decided that I would run my 5k a week early and Jane and a couple of other ladies from the group did it with me. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. This running group has changed my life. It has lifted me out of my depression and made me realise that ANYONE can run. If I can do it, anyone can do it.
A couple of people I know have joined the group because I did it. I'm proud that I was able to inspire other people to run. Since then I have had two cataract operations and my eyesight (in one eye) is significantly improved. I'm still not able to drive but I am starting work again. And I have signed up for a 10k run to raise money for Moorfields Eye Charity.
My husband is going to learn how to guide run with blind or partially-sighted people and I hope to keep running indefinitely now. I can't run far and I can't run fast but I can run and I'm proud of that. Debbie Aldridge