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It's certainly a madcap way to pay tribute to a loved one, but this Portrush man says running the London Marathon while carrying an ironing board and iron will be the perfect way to honour his tragic girlfriend

Andy Farrer tells Ivan Little of the heartache caused when his partner Wilma Patton Brolly took her own life and how he has now come up with a highly unusual way to remember her

A Portrush man is preparing to run the London Marathon in memory of his tragic girlfriend who took her own life just months before he was going to propose to her.

But Andy Farrer, who broke his spine five years ago in a fall, won't be just another face in the crowd in the capital come April.

For he'll be hard to miss as he pounds the 26.2-mile circuit because he'll be running this particularly wacky race carrying an ironing board and an iron in his hands.

The self-styled 'Iron Man of Norn Iron' will be thinking of his late partner Wilma Patton Brolly as he tries to become a real-life hero to emulate the comic-book hero Iron Man, by completing the unusual challenge for charity.

Wilma, who was 47, died in November 2016. Sadly, Andy had been planning to ask her to marry him midway through last year's marathon, five months after her passing.

"I was going to change out of my running gear into a tuxedo to pop the question, but I never got the chance. Tragically, Wilma died before I could spring my surprise," adds Andy, who works in Sainsbury's and says he misses Wilma every day.

But he is determined to finish the marathon to not only honour her, but also to run himself into the Guinness Book of Records with his ironing board escapade.

He says: "Wilma and I loved doing madcap things together and one day we read about the craze of extreme ironing in America, where people were taking pictures of themselves with their ironing boards in all sorts of strange places like cliff tops, on the roofs of bus shelters or at the sides of busy roads. We decided to try it ourselves over here and we took an ironing board, scuba diving outfits and golf clubs up to the top of Slieve Donard in the Mournes for a bit of a laugh.

"People thought it was hilarious and our antics helped with the serious business of raising the profile of a blind children's charity that I support in England called Victa. Last year, I did the marathon in London for them with an ironing board on my back, which wasn't too bad.

"But this year the Guinness Book of Records people have set certain stipulations that I have to meet if I want to make it into their record books.

"They say the ironing board must be 155 centimetres long and weigh four-and-a-half kilograms, and the iron must weigh two-and-a-half kilograms with a lead and a plug, but I am not allowed to attach anything to my body.

"They insist that I have to carry the board and the iron in my hands and complete the marathon in four hours, 15 minutes to set a world record.

"That's quite a challenging time, even for someone without the extra cargo. But I want to do it for Wilma."

The marathon will be even tougher for Andy (53), who shattered his spine after a fall from a ladder, which led surgeons to remove two discs.

This year's marathon will be Andy's fourth, but it'll be something of a milestone for him because it'll be the first one for which he has ever trained. He says: "People don't believe me, but I never did any preparations in the past because I was warned that too much training could cause damage to my spine, which has a pin in it.

"I simply used to walk up to the starting line of the marathon and drink a can of beer before setting off.

"And I finished in fairly respectable times in under six hours - even in the year that I ran the event after spending the whole night beforehand drinking in a pub.

"This year I am taking it more seriously and I'm doing all the right training because my spine is a lot better than it was."

Andy never ran the marathon without his 'companion' - a cuddly toy named Gilard, who he says became even more of a fixture in photographs than he did.

"He's a bit of a celebrity in London," says the Leeds native, who has lived in Northern Ireland for 32 years and who met Cloughmills mother-of-two Wilma on a blind date 18 months before her death.

"We were hooked on each other right from the start. We were soon dividing our time between our respective homes," he adds.

Andy called Wilma 'Giggles' because she was always laughing. She called him 'Bubbles' because he never sat still.

"We always had fantastic fun together, and we were big fans of Ulster Rugby, going to all the games at the Kingspan, which was Wilma's favourite place," he explains.

"I've only been able to go back to a game there once because I just can't face it without her."

Wilma worked in a nursery in Ballymoney. And Andy says everyone there loved her and she was devoted to the children in her care.

"At her funeral the staff who gave her a guard of honour all dressed in purple because she was so fond of the colour," says Andy, who also wore long trousers instead of his trademark shorts for the service.

He says he was always worried about Wilma driving up and down to Portrush to be with him. "So I gave Gilard to her and I said he would look after her on those dangerous roads," he says.

"Gilard is one of the most precious things in my life now that Wilma is gone."

He says Wilma had been suffering from slight depression, but he had no idea that she might be about to end her life.

"She'd seemed so happy and her friends thought so, too," he says.

"We spent the weekend before Wilma died doing nothing but laughing.

"The devastation that has been left behind is heartbreaking.

"It was like dropping a pebble into the middle of a millpond and watching every single ripple affecting everyone that Wilma knew."

One of Andy's friends died by suicide several years ago and the impact and the shock were similar.

He adds: "I never thought he would be a victim either.

"But it all just goes to show how important it is to help support suicide awareness.

"And that's why I have expanded my charity work to raise money for organisations like the Samaritans, who are helping vulnerable people"

Andy, who has had special marathon T-shirts printed and has set up an online donations account, says he's trying to rebuild his life, but it is not proving easy.

He says he knows that his training for his Iron Man run has caused a lot of merriment among his friends, but he counters: "I just tell people I have a pressing engagement in London."

One little wrinkle remains, however.

"So far we haven't found an ironing board that is long enough for the world record attempt," says Andy, who claims that he loves doing the ironing and who is confident that everything in the marathon will run smoothly.

He adds: "I just want to do Wilma proud."

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