Great North Run: Newton Aycliffe war veteran, 102, walking half marathon for NHS

Tyne Tees
Bill Cooksey, who is 102, is the oldest person taking part in this year's Great North Run. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

An 102-year-old veteran is donning his trainers for this year's Great North Run.

William Cooksey, who is also known as Bill, is taking on the challenge having previously completed 10 miles a day for 10 days for his 100th birthday and cycled 1,000 miles for his 101st birthday, doing 20 miles a day.

The Second World War veteran, from Newton Aycliffe, in County Durham, will be walking the 13.1 mile route on Sunday 10 September for the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust.

Mr Cooksey said: "I've always wanted to do it. I've been up here 30 years and always walked, and when I heard about the Great North Run I thought 'I'll be able to do that surely,' because there's the additional impetus of the NHS.

"Actually I don't think I would have done it if it wasn't of benefit to the NHS."

He is doing the walk in what is the NHS' 75th year and hopes the money he raises will help support the welfare of those working in, and supported by the National Health Service.

He is joining Dragons' Den star Sara Davies, also from County Durham, who is also taking part in the event for the NHS trust.

He added: "The only worry I've got is is how long I'll take. I'm wondering if they'll be tolerant enough to stay up until midnight to see me finish."

The veteran has already done a dummy run in preparation, doing 12 miles in five-and-a-half hours.

Despite the hot weather forecast for the day, Mr Cooksey is not too concerned. He told ITV Tyne Tees: "I've been in hotter climes. One hundred and nine degrees fahrenheit in Egypt during the war, so I'm used to that and walking.

"I'm looking forward to it."

He added: "I didn't expect to be off on my 102 birthday, but I thought why not do the Great North Run. I started it, and now I'm hoping everyone out there will dig deep. It's a worthy cause and worth the expense."

Mr Cooksey is being accompanied along the route by walking companion Gavin Iceton. His fellow walker said: "He'll do great he's way past being determined. I think if you're doing it at 84 or 85, 95 even, you're determined. He's doing it at 102, he's stubborn and he will do it.

"We'll be nice and steady, he's done lots of practising, and will have lots of water, keep nice and cool and we're just going to go nice and steady. He'll be a record breaker no matter how long it takes him.

"He started off with a stroller, and then I came for a walk with him a couple of months ago and he was doing three miles-an hour up. I'm only here to keep his balance, he does all the walking, he's pushing himself, setting the pace... I have to hold him back sometimes."

TV star and founder of the company Crafters Companion, Sara Davies, is running alongside Bill for the County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust.

She said: "As an event the Great North Run is something that is so innately North Eastern, you can go anywhere in the world, not just the country, and people know about it.

"It's infamous in its own right. I love it when you picture all those runners running over the Tyne Bridge and I can remember doing that nearly 20 years ago when I was 18 or 19 years-old when I was a student. I want to relive that moment again."

Despite being excited for the iconic moment of running across the Tyne Bridge, she did admit that she is bit nervous about the run because of the heat expected over the weekend.

As a result she said she is going to soak up the atmosphere rather than going for a personal best.

Pat Chambers, charity and development manager for County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said: "He's amazing, after his 100 year birthday challenge, and his 101-year-old birthday challenge we thought 102 would be a calm year... then in February he said to me 'I'd really like to do the Great North Run,' and I thought 'you've got to be kidding.'"

"Here we are, he's put the training in and he's absolutely determined to do it. I couldn't be prouder to have him as one of our fundraisers."

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