A blind marathon runner has tied the knot with her guide after falling in love over the seven years he accompanied her on Parkrun.
Kelly Barton, from Southport, Merseyside, met Mike Leatherbarrow in 2016 when he navigated her through a Saturday morning 5k race.
The pair remained committed to each other over the years, with Kelly expressing that they ‘fell madly in love over the miles’ in an interview with The Telegraph.
Since then, the duo have participated in various running events, ranging from 5k Parkruns to half marathons and full marathons.
‘Seven years ago, I met an amazing guy. Me, a blind runner and him, my guide runner… and yesterday we became husband and wife!’ Kelly wrote in the announcement on social media.
Kelly told the publication that she hadn’t taken sports seriously until she reached the age of 40.
It was at that point she decided to try out a Parkrun following the recommendation of her GP. Interestingly, her GP was a newly trained guide runner and introduced her to Mike.
Kelly soon got into the swing of running and was surprised by how much she enjoyed it.
She detailed the joyful atmosphere of a Parkrun, emphasising how her guide runner not only warns her of sharp corners, but also describes any eccentric costumes along the course.
‘I loved it straight away – the people, the community, the encouragement that you get,’ Kelly explained.
‘It’s great to run with the same person because you just naturally build up trust.’
The couple are so devoted to Parkrun that they intentionally planned their wedding for a Friday, ensuring they could still take part in a run the following day.
They also have plans to participate in a Remembrance Day run this weekend.
Throughout the years, Kelly’s pace has significantly improved and she now averages 22 and a half minutes for the 5km route.
Meanwhile, Mike, who has run all six major world marathons, recently finished Tokyo in three hours and 17 minutes this year.
He expressed surprise at how Kelly, without knowing him, ventured beyond the safety of her comfort zone to run with him.
Mike took on the role of a guide runner after volunteering at the London 2012 Paralympics. He had been participating in the Parkrun at Southport’s Hesketh Park for seven months before meeting Kelly.
He highlighted the importance of establishing a relationship of trust between a guide and a visually impaired runner.
Kelly, who is a advocate for sight loss and a manager at the Thomas Pocklington Trust, a national charity supporting blind and partially sighted individuals, has been blind since birth.
In 2020, she participated in the ‘virtual’ London Marathon, amidst the pandemic, aiming to raise funds for the Salvation Army.
At the time, she said she was ready to take on the challenge.