The 49th Darlington Sports Winners Grand Final took place last week – and the event opened with a moving story of friendship at the heart of a mum’s inspirational fight against cancer. PETER BARRON reports

FOR Viv Pow, it was "such a disappointment" that she couldn't be there to see her best friend being recognised for her epic efforts on behalf of cancer research.

“Just to let you know, I’m in hospital. I now have a brain tumour, so I won’t make the award ceremony tomorrow,” she said in a frustrated message on the eve of the 49th Darlington Sports Winners Grand Final.

Instead, she watched on her phone, from a side ward at Darlington Memorial Hospital, as friends Facetimed the moment Tracy Kirk tearfully received the Inspiration Award at Darlington College.

It's a friendship that began in 2001 when the pair met while working together as Darlington police officers, and it has been a priceless relationship since Viv's first cancer diagnosis in 2012.

Within 16 weeks of her first bout of chemotherapy, Viv ran the Yorkshire Marathon. And that was just the start. She ran, and she ran, and she ran – in stubborn defiance of the disease.

Marathons were completed in Paris, Edinburgh, Kielder, London, and she also tackled the Great North Run, as well as being a Darlington parkrun regular.

The mum-of-two became a bowel cancer campaigner, and a counsellor for others needing to wear an ileostomy bag. But Viv would be the first to acknowledge the role of a special group of friends in helping her to stay positive: Judith Porter, Tina Regan, Jennie Gardiner, Amanda Garvey-Kovac – and Tracy Kirk.

The Northern Echo:

Before she met Viv, Tracy was hardly what you’d call a runner. But she was inspired to join Viv on training runs and, in 2018, they both completed the Loch Ness Marathon.

Tracy got the running bug, and discovered it also helped with her own general anxiety disorder. In 2021, she embarked on a year of gruelling running challenges to raise funds for Cancer Research UK.

Since then, her achievements have included the Brighton Marathon, the Swaledale Marathon, and the London Marathon. Last September, she inspired seven colleagues to join her in the Great North Run, and then she ran the Berlin marathon.

Alongside Viv, she’s become the face – and radio voice – of the Race for Life.

For the past two years, she’s also been the chief organiser for a fundraising fun run – Viv’s Positivity Power – in South Park. Tracy and Viv have raised around £40,000 with their running adventures since 2014, with Tracy raising more than £20,000 since 2021.

This is an extract of what Viv wrote in Tracy’s award citation: “Tracy's been a warrior, providing a listening ear, reminding me to be positive, and giving me much needed strength. She always has the most beautiful smile, encouraging others to run, and raise money for cancer research. I'm so proud to call Tracy my friend.”

Sadly, Viv couldn’t be there in person, to hear the citation read out, but she was able to watch from hospital.

The Northern Echo:

“It felt like I was there, and it was so emotional to see Tracy being presented with the award after all she’s done. I could see how much it meant to her," she said.

“I couldn’t be more proud to see how much she’s achieved, and it’s meant so much to me to see how much she’s grown in confidence.

“We’ve always been there for each other, and that’s the best feeling in the world."

Viv now has to come to terms with the latest stage of her cancer fight – the news that she has a brain tumour. Her medical team is due to meet today to discuss the options.

“We’ll take it one step at a time,” she says.

Whatever steps lie ahead, Viv Pow knows she’ll have her friends beside her.

AS well as Tracy Kirk, congratulations also to all the other sports stars who have brought such credit to Darlington over the past year.

The Mayor of Darlington, Councillor Jan Cossins, who was guest of honour, said: “What this event shows is that Darlington is bursting with talent, and dedication. It's heartwarming to see and the 50th anniversary next year will be extra-special.”


Primary Sports Achiever: Alexa Cooper and Evan Cooper. Adult Club Sports Achiever: Laurie Cummings. Secondary Sports Achiever: Callum Moncur. Primary School Team Award: Reid St Primary School Leadership Team, and High Coniscliffe Primary School Leadership Team. Secondary School Team Award: Hurworth School Under-15s Girls Football Team. Club Team Award: Red Hall Dance Group. Service to Sport Award Over 17: Shaun Mackenzie. Mulheim Trophy: Red Hall Dance Group. Lifetime Achievement Award: Sarah Small. Ron Lewis Award: Callum Moncur. Councillor Brian Jones Award: Hurworth School Under 15s Girls Football Team. The Copeland Trophy: Alexa Cooper and Evan Cooper. Town Twinning Trophy: Eve Robson. Inspiration Award: Tracy Kirk.

Sarah Small deserves a special mention for receiving a lifetime of achievement award for more than 20 years’ devotion to Red Hall Dance Group. Sarah’s story will be featured on this page soon.

Read more from Peter Barron here:

Click here to get more from The Northern Echo with a Premium Plus digital subscription from as little as only £1.50 a week.

In the meantime, Brian Dobinson, who admirably heads up the organising committee for the annual awards, has made a plea for sponsorship ahead of the event’s 50th anniversary next year.

“It’s remarkable to think that we’ll be celebrating our half century next year, but we desperately need support to help us shine a spotlight on the stars of Darlington’s sports scene on such an important milestone,” said Brian.

You could call it a plea for friends.