The latest fundraising fun run has taken place in honour of former police officer, Viv Pow, who continues to defy the odds in her inspirational fight against inoperable cancer. PETER BARRON joined in...

THERE were smiles everywhere you looked around the park. Adults smiled. Children smiled. Dogs, trotting on leads alongside their owners, appeared to smile, as did the ducks who watched with interest from the pond as we streamed past.

The miles of smiles were led by Viv Pow, who’d set the tone by telling us at the start of her latest fundraising fun run: “Find the good things to think about, be grateful for your family and friends – enjoy life because it really is amazing.”

Nearly 200 people of all ages had turned out in Darlington's glorious South Park for the second Viv’s Positivity Fun Run/Walk.

And the evening sun shone down on Darlington’s South Park, as if to embrace the inspirational message embodied by the 59-year-old mum and grandma, who has been living with cancer for 11 years.

An inaugural fun run in her honour had been held in the park last year, with Viv thinking it would be a one-off, having been told a year earlier that her cancer had become inoperable. But here she was again, still defying the odds, still raising money for a charity close to her heart, and still making the most of life.

“We weren’t sure whether this would happen again but thank you all for coming – I’m completely blown away,” she told the assembled fundraisers.

“Being diagnosed with stage four cancer hasn’t stopped me doing things," she added. "Having a positive mental attitude is massive, it makes such a difference. So, enjoy yourselves – make the most of your friendships and loved ones.”

Viv, who lives in Middleton Tyas, served for 30 years as a police officer, including 23 years with Durham Constabulary, until her retirement in 2014. Her first bowel cancer diagnosis had been made in 2012, but she has been determined to remain positive. Despite now needing a walking stick, she regularly turns out at the Darlington Parkrun on Saturday mornings to cheer on the hundreds of participants.

Viv’s latest fun run was again organised by best friend, Tracy Kirk, and supported by Darlington Harriers. In recent years, Tracy, a Darlington police officer, has committed to a series of running events for Cancer Research UK and, with the latest fun run adding a magnificent £2,200 to the tally, she and Viv have now raised nearly £40,000.

As the fun runners gathered in South Park, Tracy paid an emotional tribute to her friend, saying: “I can’t put into words what I think of Viv, without getting upset,” she said. “She’s just an incredibly special person. The sunshine matches her sunny disposition – how can you not feel good just being here, surrounded by such positivity.”

Those taking part were quick to add tributes of their own...

Ian Burgess, a veteran of 160 Parkruns, said: “To me, this is one of the most important runs of the year because Viv is so special. Last year, she gave us the choice to be happy – and I chose to be happy. It’s lovely to see her here and still being happy herself, always with a big smile and a ready cuddle.”

Health care worker Jenny Dell, who is in the midst of a training programme ahead of taking part in the Great North Run in aid of the North East Autism Society, said: “I’ve met Viv at parkruns, and she’s such an inspiration despite everything she’s gone through. She always still comes out and supports everyone and is always smiling. Cancer Research UK is such a great cause and I just wanted to play my part.”

Former international veteran sprint hurdler, Joss Conner, was determined to take part in the event despite having a hip replacement operation 12 days earlier. Her plan was to walk for a kilometre and be pushed the rest of the way in a wheelchair by her husband, Tony.

“Everyone is inspired by Viv’s story,” said Joss. “My setback is only going to be temporary, but Viv has lived with cancer for years and still lives life to the full. She’s just incredible.”

Nicky McKenna, relationship manager for Cancer Research UK in the North-East and Cumbria, was also there to show his support.

“Viv’s so inspirational and brave in the way she brings the whole community together, and doing it to help us to make new life-saving discoveries here in the North-East,” he added.

Nicky explained that, in the 1970s, one in four people survived cancer for 10 years, but that figure is now two in four.

“About 16,700 people will be diagnosed with cancer in the next 12 months in the North-East alone, and only half that number will survive,” he added.

“But with the help of people like Viv and Tracy, we can accelerate the progress that’s being made so that three out of four survive by 2034.”

The last word goes to Viv, who was there at the finish to hand out smiley-face medals to those who had completed the three laps of the park, whether they were running, walking, or in a wheelchair.

“It’s not about me, it’s about everyone here today, and it’s so lovely to see them being so positive,” she said, with a bunch of party balloons in her hand.

“If we keep working together, we can beat cancer one day.”

Naturally, she said it with an infectious smile.

FOR my part, I managed to complete the 5k run alongside my wife, Heather, and our six-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.

Having just flown back from a summer holiday in Jersey, I was still feeling the affects of too much lounging around, too much food, and too much red wine.

As I started to flag, halfway round the course, Chloe grabbed my hand and shouted: "Come on Grandad, we can do this – it's important!"