An intrepid Darlington Royal Navy veteran is going the extra mile for the heroes of the NHS, despite almost dying from Covid-19, and still having to cope with the effects of the virus. He talks to PETER BARRON

IT’S fair to say that Glenn Gowling hasn’t exactly been putting his feet up in the hammock since he retired from a distinguished life on the ocean wave.

I last caught up with Glenn a year ago, just as he was hanging up his uniform after 37 years in the Royal Navy, during which time he was awarded the MBE for services to the country in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks.

Since leaving the armed forces, and being appointed at advisor for the National Careers Service, he’s been rather busy, despite almost dying from Covid-19, and now suffering from debilitating after-effects.

In March, 2020, Glenn – born and raised in Darlington – found himself in the intensive therapy unit (ITU) at the town’s Memorial Hospital after catching the virus during his final official naval duty – attending the inaugural visit to Liverpool of Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales.

It involved shaking a lot of hands, days after the controversial Champions League football match between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid. As infections surged, he went down “like a sack of spuds”.

A week in the ITU followed, including three days on a ventilator, and he was given a rousing round of applause by NHS staff when he became the town’s first Covid patient to leave the hospital “in the right way”.

“It could easily have gone the other way but, thankfully, I recovered due to the amazing care I received,” he recalls.

As he left hospital, he promised the ITU staff that he would raise money for the unit by taking part in the Great North Run, only for it to be cancelled due to the pandemic.

Instead, Glenn embarked on a virtual run and walk, the length of the trek from Lands’ End to John O’Groats.

With the support of the Run Walk Run Together group in Darlington, he covered 874 miles, in stages, between September 2020 and July 2021. And, in doing so, he raised more than £1,000 for the Darlington Royal Naval Association.

Now, he’s training hard to fulfil his promise to the ITU staff by tackling this year’s 40th anniversary of the Great North Run on Sunday.

So far, he’s raised £500, with the unit’s senior sister, Diane Cruickshank, deciding that the money will go towards creating an outdoor relaxation area, with lighting and a weatherproof dome, for ITU patients and staff to get some fresh air.

“Diane informed me that some patients have ‘cabin fever’ experiences due to a lack of windows or views. The plan is that the patients can be wheeled into this area, complete with equipment, when they have the urge to feel the fresh air, see daylight, or even the stars, in a safe and therapeutic environment,” explains Glenn.

“I’m just delighted to have been able to show my gratitude for the care I had from those wonderful men and women because every one of them is a hero in my eyes.”

Glenn will be tackling the world’s most famous half-marathon despite still suffering from “long Covid”, with symptoms including fatigue and an atrial flutter in his heart.

“I have clearance from the cardiologist so, one way or another, I’m going to get to the end,” he says.

The first and last time he did the Great North Run was in 1997, and his most vivid memory is being overtaken by a man in a hot dog costume.

“A basket of bread, or anything else, can overtake me this time, and I won’t be bothered, as long as I finish and raise the money,” he adds.

Glenn’s wife, Sue – his “soulmate and rock” – will also be running, in aid of the Great North Air Ambulance.

“It’s also so she can give me a kick up the backside and make sure I finish!” he laughs.

As well as completing 874-mile run and walk, then training for the Great North Run, Glenn has also succeeded in the other goal he set himself upon leaving the Royal Navy.

He was determined to breathe new life into his hometown branch of the Royal Naval Association – the country’s biggest supporter of Royal Navy veterans and serving personnel – and he’s pleased to report it’s mission accomplished.

“We are firmly on the map now and doing very well in keeping shipmates reconnected,” he says.

Membership has risen from six to 25, with monthly meetings being held on the first floor of The Old English Gentleman pub, in Bondgate. The next meeting takes place this Friday at 7pm.

It all makes a lifetime in the Royal Navy look relatively pedestrian, but Glenn’s light-hearted parting shot is to point out one advantage of suffering the effects of long Covid.

“I get brain fog – but it’s always a convenient excuse for getting a second Hobnob when I go in the kitchen!” he says.

  • To make a donation in recognition of Glenn’s participation in the Great North Run, go to www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/glenn-gowling-2-gnr4oforicuandgnaa.
  • Search for ‘Darlington Run Walk Run Together’ on Facebook if you wish to keep active with free, friendly sessions.
  • And to find out more about the Darlington branch of the Royal Naval Association, call 07581 469527

ON the subject of the 40th anniversary of The Great Run, what a lovely touch that heroes from the NHS will be this year’s official starters.

Consultant Cardiologist, Dr Mickey Jachuck, from South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust; Senior Sister Jade Trewick, of the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle; Community Nurse Dorathy Oparaeche, from Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, and Occupational Health Lead Deborah Southworth, from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead, “will represent the heroic efforts of all health and care staff in the NHS’s fight against Covid-19 during the pandemic”.

That Sir Brendan Foster’s a classy fella, isn’t he? Pity he never ran for Parliament.

FINALLY, it’s so nice to be up and running with the public speaking tour again, and today sees me addressing Darlington Flower Club’s annual charity day at Headlam Hall.

The club’s chosen worthy cause this year is the “Centre of Excellence for Cancer” appeal, launched last year – with The Northern Echo’s invaluable support – by the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust’s charity.

The appeal aims to expand and improve the Chemotherapy Day Centre at the University Hospital of North Durham.

As someone who’s just had the news that a very good friend has been diagnosed with cancer, I’m happy to report that a recent plug in this column, and elsewhere in the paper, sowed the seeds well enough for the event to blossom into a sell-out.