Four NHS workers from across the North East will be the official starters of this year's Great North Run.
A cardiologist, a nurse, an occupational health lead and a community nurse have been chosen in recognition of the efforts of all NHS staff during the pandemic.
The announcement comes just days before runners descend on Newcastle for the 40th staging of the half-marathon, on Sunday 13 September.
Race founder Sir Brendan Foster said: “I think I speak for the whole country when I say the heroic efforts of the National Health Service are something we should all pay tribute to."
The NHS staff to perform the honour are consultant cardiologist, Dr Mickey Jachuck, from South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, senior sister Jade Trewick of the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) 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.
They are part of the event’s Great North Thank You Campaign, that will pay tribute to thirteen inspirational individuals through a large-scale visual installation along the course at this year’s Great North Run, with the support of partner HSBC.
Dr Jachuck, who will also be running the event, worked on Covid admission and inpatient wards, in addition to his day job as a consultant cardiologist.
He and his team provided 24/7 cover for patients admitted with Covid - many of whom had developed severe respiratory failure and were critically ill.
“During the pandemic, the sheer numbers of people presenting with symptoms of Covid and the demands on hospital services were immense, a large part of our work was just being on the shop floor, on the Covid wards, assessing patients and treating them," he said.
Sister Jade Trewick, was key to the success of the RVI's Ward 49, a respiratory support unit which provides both intensive care and step-down care for Covid positive patients.
The ward was created in just 12 weeks to care for patients with more severe Covid infection.
At the busiest times during the pandemic and with the country in lockdown, Ms Trewick and her team were the only people who could provide any physical form of contact with patients – albeit through PPE.
She said: “You want to do everything right – you often feel like you’re not doing enough and you always want to do more – but then you remind yourself that we’re only human and we can only do our best."
As a community staff Nurse during the pandemic, Dorathy Oparaeche’s job was to look after patients in their own homes. She was taking care of some of the most vulnerable people in our region, including those with dementia, people living with chronic disease and people who were housebound.
“Going out to patients who were potentially positive was nerve wracking," she said.
“Trying to reassure patients who were anxious was difficult when I was anxious myself, but you put on a brave face."
And at Gateshead’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Deborah Southworth an occupational health team lead recognised frontline staff were under a huge amount of pressure.
She and her team began putting initiatives in motion to support staff through the hardest days of the pandemic and beyond.
"There was a team of us that decided staff needed somewhere to go, so we came up with the Sanctuary Rooms," she said.
"They became a refuge where people could collect their thoughts and have a bit of me time during a hectic day on the wards."
This year’s Great North Run will take place on Sunday, 12 September.