“It’s very rewarding”: How the loss of his premature son inspired runner to fundraise for Theirworld

Text: Spotlight On... Dave Jowett. Photo: headshot of Dave Jowett

Spotlight On ...

Theirworld’s mission to help vulnerable children is supported by some amazing people. They include fundraisers whose passion and drive helps us to continue to innovate and expand our programmes.

One of them is Dave Jowett, a 44-year-old from Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, England. He is father to Lucas, 14, and Jenson, 11, and husband to Claire. Dave has raised thousands of pounds for Theirworld.

In the latest in our Spotlight On … series on inspiring people, Dave talks about why he started running each year in the world’s biggest half-marathon to raise funds for Theirworld – and how other people can help to make a difference in the lives of young people at home and abroad.

How did you got involved with Theirworld and why did you decide to fundraise?

In 2006, our first son Thomas was born prematurely at 22 weeks and unfortunately was too little to survive. It was a really difficult period for me, my wife and our close family, who were all equally devastated. The doctors couldn’t really give us any real explanation as to why Thomas had been born prematurely, as the tests carried out were all deemed to be normal.

In some ways, this made dealing with our loss even more difficult, as it didn’t give us any real closure and we were left wondering why this had happened to us.

We quickly realised that in order to help us cope with our loss, we needed to channel our energy into ensuring Thomas’s short life would not be forgotten. My mum came across an article about the charity PiggyBankKids, which was founded by the children’s campaigner Sarah Brown and later became Theirworld.

In 2006 I signed up to do the Great North Run to raise funds for research into why babies are born early and what can be done to help them survive and flourish. Sixteen years on, I’m still tackling the famous half-marathon every year on behalf of Theirworld and specifically the Jennifer Brown Research Fund.

I’ve completed the Great North Run 15 times now. I’ve also put a charity team together for Theirworld for the past 12 years. We usually have at least seven to 10 people running each year raising vital funds for the Jennifer Brown Research Fund.

Why do you think Theirworld’s work is important?  

It’s estimated that around 60,000 babies are born prematurely in the UK every year – one in every 13. There is little research done to understand why, though.

The focus tends to be on the care required post-birth in the neonatal units. When we came across the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory launched by Theirworld, I remember thinking that if the money we raised helped save just one child from having to go through neonatal care, then it’s been worth it. And it’s also our personal way of never forgetting Thomas and the short time he spent with us.

Why did you choose running as your main fundraising activity?

Because I’m terrible at swimming! Joking apart, my older brother had done the Great North Run back in 2005 and commented on what an amazing event it was. I’ve always been into sport and exercising so it seemed like an obvious thing for me to raise money doing something I love.

It’s truly amazing to take part in the Great North Run. You have to experience it to understand what it’s like to be one of 54,000 runners lined up ready to take on such an iconic event. The atmosphere is just electric.

I still get the same buzz every year when I go back and hear that iconic Great North Run anthem blasting out at the start line.

Do you have any fundraising tips for someone taking on a challenge?

I think the key thing is to signpost early what you are doing and why. When people understand your story and your motivation for doing something, they tend to be incredibly generous.

The fundraising websites also make collection of money so much easier these days and they are really easy to set up and administer.

What training tips would you give?

Draw up a plan and try to stick to it. The temptation is to put off starting, which often results in people trying to do too much too late which can lead to injury (I’m talking from experience).

Also remember why you’re doing it. When motivation levels are low, it’s a great way to get you out of the door.

What have you taken away from your fundraising experiences?

That as well as raising lots of money over many years for an amazing cause, fundraising can be a very rewarding thing to be involved in. To know you are doing something good that hopefully others will benefit from is a great feeling.

How do you normally celebrate after a race?

My answer should say a sports massage, an ice bath and a recovery protein bar. In reality, it tends to be a double bacon cheeseburger, a few pints (for rehydration purposes obviously) and a curry at one of the many restaurants in South Shields (where the Great North Run ends).

What is the greatest lesson you have learned?  

I guess that life goes on and you’ve got to keep moving forward. It would have been easy to stay locked in the past wondering why. However, we took a chance and thankfully we have two happy, healthy kids in Lucas and Jenson now.

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