Indefatigable Ivan defying MS as he steels himself for 10th marathon run
Six years ago, Ivan Prue could barely move, but months later he walked the London Marathon. This year, he is doing it all over again - and he is determined to run the whole way.
The Bangor man, fondly known as Big Ivan, has multiple sclerosis (MS) but has just started training for the 2016 London Marathon - his 10th 26-mile race.
Ivan started running in 2005 after tipping the scales at 21-and-a-half stone and deciding that he needed to exercise more.
"I took a look at myself and started trying to get fit," he said. "I then entered the Belfast Marathon Relay, and when a friend dropped out I ended up doing two legs instead of one. From there I got the running bug."
After Ivan (43) lost more than six stone, he started taking running more seriously, entering 5k races, then half-marathons and, finally, a full-length one.
However, doctors realised there was something seriously wrong with him after he fell off his bike and ended up in A&E in 2009.
After a series of neurological tests, he was given the heartbreaking news he had MS.
"It was devastating," Ivan said. "All I could think was, 'Am I going to be in a wheelchair?'"
He was so frightened of losing control of his body, he did laps around the hospital ward.
Despite the diagnosis, Ivan's condition was manageable, so he decided not to tell all his family and just kept running.
He explained: "When I got out of hospital, I think I was in denial about MS. I kept training and completed the Dublin Marathon in 2009. I think I thought I could run away from MS".
But a few months later, the condition hit Ivan hard and he was admitted to hospital for a month, unable to walk or speak.
"It was like I'd had a stroke," he said. "I was completely paralysed down my left side. It was awful."
Despite his ordeal, Ivan was determined to complete the 2010 London Marathon, and he "walked, stumbled and jogged" his way to the finish line in six hours and two minutes - almost double his best time of three hours and 12 minutes.
"I'm a fighter," he said. "I never give up. My doctors weren't sure I could do it, but I thought, 'I'm not going to let this beat me'. It was my slowest time, but it was the best experience I had because it meant so much to cross the line."
Key to Ivan's management of the condition has been monthly infusions of a drug called Tysabri, which he has been on for six years. Although he had to retire from his job as an estates manager at a local college in 2014 and he still suffers some symptoms, he said he was almost back to the "old Ivan".
"My attitude is to keep going," he added. "It's hard, but you have to. This is my battle and not everyone with MS will be the same, but fitness and a positive attitude are important. My mantra is improvise, adapt, overcome."
This month, Ivan started his training for his second London Marathon and this time, he is determined to run all 26.2 miles.
To donate to Ivan's marathon fundraising campaign for the MS Society, visit https://www.justgiving.com/Big-ivan