‘If someone threw a ball I’d have ducked’ laughs Phyllis Moran when I ask if fitness has always been her hobby.  Yet one could be forgiven for thinking so, given that Phyllis is known to most of us as a highly accomplished and decorated long distance runner.  Whether it be through the ever increasing number of local running groups or solo runners pounding the paves of Queens Quay, Derry has seen an enormous surge in the popularity of the hobby. Indeed we are all falling in love with fitness, However what sets Phyllis’ journey apart is her ‘later than usual’ introduction to it.

For the Carnhill grandmother of six, her journey began after attending a talk by local man Danny Sheerin, known locally as ‘The Running Man’ after he completing Derry’s first ever marathon.  Entirely inspired by his story, a tale of ‘determination and human capabilities regardless of age’ Phyllis signed up for a Couch to 5K initiative at Templemore Sports Complex and laced her (new) trainers for the first time.  Phyllis recalls looking around the group and realising she was the oldest person there, panicking that she had bitten off more than she could chew. ‘I was direct and asked the coaches straight out, am I too old for this running carry-on?  They gave me advice that I still stick by, as long as you are enjoying it then keep doing it. I think about that every time I challenge myself and sign up for a new run’. 

With the support of Rise Running Club, Phyllis completed her first 5K armed with ‘great advice, supportive coaches and many new friends’. Filled with an overwhelming sense of achievement, Phyllis quietly set her next goal and began training with longer distances, noticing that she found it difficult to follow training routes or directions alone, so she always ran with a partner, a problem she was to find would get worse over time.  On one of attempted solo runs, a friend provided a Cityside route, however Phyllis realised she had taken a wrong turn when she found herself in the Waterside.  ‘I can laugh about it now, but it was scary then.  I don’t really like crossing the road on my own, I get nervous and usually the drivers crack up with me so I’m better now running with company’. 

With perseverance and the support of a running partner, Phyllis eventually reached ten mile single runs at the age of sixty-five and signed up for her first half marathon, completing the 13 mile Waterside race in September 2016. Finding the exercise improved the lifelong depression she had suffered, she completed the Ballyliffin Costal Run and Strabane/Lifford half marathon.   Through fundraising for Cancer Research UK, she remembers the sister and brother-in law she had tragically lost to cancer in the previous years, ensuring every run matters.  In awe of her determination and full of pride, her peers at Rise surprised her with an all-expenses paid trip to complete The Great North Run in October 2017, which left her completely speechless.  ‘It was at the Christmas Party, Tommy was on stage reciting a very moving speech about someone who inspired the group and I was nodding along thinking fair play to them, I nearly died when he called my name and asked me to come onstage, presenting me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and the trip.  I have met friends for life there, young and old whose paths never would have passed if it were not for Rise. I will be eternally thankful to the team’. 

It was around the same time as her first race that Phyllis attended the Memory Clinic for challenges with short-term forgetfulness and coordination, which led to a startling later life diagnosis of severe dyslexia.  ‘I always found reading and writing difficult, but assumed everyone did and regards my physical co-ordination, I thought I was just clumsy or nervous.  I had lifelong problems with confidence, it was rock bottom because I had nothing in my life I was good at outside of my family.  That’s why running has totally changed my life, I finally feel proud that I have something I am good at, who cares of it took all this time to get here. 

Lifelong undiagnosed dyslexia has had an obvious impact on modest Phyllis’ self-esteem, when I ask her if she feels like she is a role-model she hides behind her jumper. ‘’It’s so hard to think about myself like that, because for sixty-five years I found literacy so difficult that I really beat myself up, now people are telling me I am an inspiration so it’s hard to change your own opinions on yourself at my age.  There was no such thing as dyslexia in my youth, you either were smart or not and I made up my mind I wasn’t, and concentrated on raising my eight sons.  One of my sons has started walking to work and being more fit so hopefully that’s because he is inspired by me’.

Feeling empowered by her new found sense of achievement, you would be lucky to find Phyllis at home these days! Husband Georgie jokes ‘she is not allowed any more hobbies or she would never see me’.    With a busy week that includes attending her much loved 50+ club in GSAP, Studio 2’s Beginners Art Class, Swimming ‘with armbands, because I can’t swim so I just go side to side in the more shallow areas of the pool to keep myself fit’ and 22 miles of running, it is her beloved Crochet Club ‘Keep er Knit’ that makes her face light up.  ’The ladies are wonderful, they noticed I found I hard to read the patterns so instead of writing them out for me they show me how to do the stitch, then I can go and copy them and do it myself.  They have also helped me fundraise by making me an easter hamper which them helped me show my gratitude to Rise for what they have done for me’.    

It was at the Crochet Club that Phyllis began making puppet characters to help her tell stories to her grandchildren, to overcome the dyslexia which affected her ability to read clearly to them.  This piece of information, which she just casually mentioned rather than offered, was the most heartwarming example of Phyllis’ determination, initiative and unrelenting pursuit to ‘find a way and not let anything beat me.  I feel like this is my time now, I feel like I can do anything’.  I think she can too.  

 

 

How would you describe yourself?  An ordinary person, but wee bit not wise.

What makes you laugh? Our house, when all my eight boys are home for Christmas.  I love hearing their eight big voices fill our wee house.

What is the best compliment you have ever received?  Definitely the Great North Run trip, from the Rise team. That was so overwhelming.

What has been the high point of your life to date? My family and my faith are the great things that I have been blessed with. 

And the low point? The death of my parents.

You are a very busy woman, how do you relax?  I do keep myself busy with my hobbies but running and crochet help me relax too.  I do need to go slow sometimes and take it easy so I love to watch the soaps, Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Eastenders are my favourite.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?  Looking back now I realise it was because of my dyslexia but I was visiting my brother in the hospital and there was an evacuation, so I couldn’t get a taxi because none were allowed in.  I had to walk back, but there I was doing circles around Lisnagalvin because I was completely lost.  Some kind soul offered to walk me over the bridge finally!

You have tried so much lately, is there anything you have tried that you aren't keen on? Well I don’t like going to the hairdressers, I have been twice in my life, I do it myself,  I am too shy! And I don’t think gyms are for me, I would rather be out in the fresh air.  

As a mother of eight, have you any advice for anyone struggling to balance family demands and time for themselves?  You need that time, so when life is busy try not to give up your own time first.  It’s great seeing young women being fit, looking after themselves and having quality time for themselves. Ladies are spending more time on hobbies now than ever, which is great to see.