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Judith Gillespie: The ex-cop and sports boss on the run with Mary

Easy does it: an injury means Judith Gillespie will walk, not run
Easy does it: an injury means Judith Gillespie will walk, not run
Fitness drive: Antoinette McKeown of Sport NI
Dame Mary Peters
Coasting alone: thousands of runners compete along the North Down shore
Coasting alone: thousands of runners compete along the North Down shore

By Stephanie Bell

Former PSNI deputy Judith Gillespie and Sport NI's Antoinette McKeown will join thousands at tonight's RunHer...and you can still enter too!

'I'm raising cash in memory of my sister-in-law'

Judith Gillespie is determined not to let a painful knee injury prevent her from taking part in tonight's Belfast Telegraph Coastal RunHer. The recently retired Deputy Chief Constable is a keen charity runner but after hurting herself while training recently has committed instead to walking tonight's 10km route with Mary Peters.

The Walk with Mary is a popular new feature of the Coastal RunHer this year and for every one of the dozens who have signed up to take part, £2 will go to the Mary Peters Foundation.

In total a record number of more than 2,000 women will be taking part in our third Coastal RunHer along the scenic north Down coast this evening.

Judith will also be raising funds for her favourite charity, Marie Curie Cancer Care, and will be joined at RunHer by three members of her family. She says: "I would have quite liked to come and run the event, but unfortunately I have been nursing a knee injury for a while. I am really delighted and honoured to be walking with Dame Mary at the event, though. I know her very well through the World Police and Fire Games last summer and think the work that is done for young people via the Mary Peters Foundation is fantastic."

Judith (51) was Northern Ireland's most senior woman police officer before retiring last month and was awarded an OBE for her services to the local community.

She joined the RUC in 1982 and became the first ever female Chief Officer (Assistant Chief Constable) in 2004. She had been deputy chief constable since 2009.

Always a sports enthusiast, she played hockey and squash for the RUC for many years and last year she served as chair of the board for the World Police and Fire Games when they were hosted by Northern Ireland.

She was inspired to take up running by her late sister-in-law Anne Colville, who tragically died from lung cancer.

"Anne took up running late in life with some friends from work. She was never fit or very sporty and went on to do two marathons," says Judith.

"She showed that when you set your mind to something and are really determined then you can do it.

"Tragically Anne died of lung cancer six years ago and since then my other sisters-in- law and I have regularly run the Belfast Marathon relay, Race for Life and the Great North Run for Marie Curie.

"Anne spent the last days of her life in the Marie Curie Hospice and we are passionate about running and raising funds for Marie Curie."

As well as running Judith and her family have held fund-raising barbecues and other events for Marie Curie and although she doesn't have an exact figure she thinks that together they have raised more than £10,000 for the charity. In addition to the emotional connection, she says she found running very therapeutic in helping her with the stresses of her high-powered post as a senior police officer.

She says: "I run twice a week, usually six or seven miles. Since injuring my knee I haven't been able to run but I still go out and walk. I've always tried to keep fit and been sporty and I enjoy taking part in the big events.

"I've always talked about doing RunHer but this will be my first and I'm really looking forward to it.

"The thing I love about events like RunHer is that they are focused on women and sometimes I feel that women don't want to run with men in these races.

"What is also great about it is that everyone can have a go, all shapes and sizes and all levels of fitness.

"I would really encourage everyone to take part; there really is nothing to stop you."

Judith, who has two grown- up daughters who also run, is enjoying a more relaxed lifestyle since retiring in March but has no intentions of putting her feet up just yet.

"It's been fabulous so far, but I don't intend to be idle.

"I've a few irons in the fire and have not retired from life in general."

'Walking helps me keep everything in perspective'

As the first woman to be appointed chief executive officer of Sport NI, Antoinette McKeown has been astonished since taking up her post eight months ago to discover that 80% of women in Northern Ireland don't get enough exercise.

This grim statistic and the fact that she has been an avid walker all her life made the decision to take part in this year's RunHer an easy one for Antoinette when asked by her friend and colleague Mary to join her on the Walk with Mary.

Having held high-powered positions, including being the chief executive of the Consumer Council for a number of years before taking up her current post, Antoinette knows the benefits of exercise to health.

"Mary is based in our building and is a close colleague and when she asked me to take part in RunHer I had no hesitation," she says.

"I'm a fast walker and will go out every night if I can. I think exercise is important for good mental health and especially in a high pressure job like mine it is vital to wellbeing. It also gives you a sense of self-worth and motivation.

"When I walk it really helps me to declog the mind and put the whole events of the day in perspective.

"It helps me to think clearly and to relax."

Living in a rural community in Co Armagh, her favourite place to walk is the Ring of Gullion where she also walked as a child with her dad.

The 47-year-old mum of two boys was one of three teams from Sport NI who took part in the relays in Belfast City Marathon this year.

Although not a runner, Antoinette is leading by example in her new job where she says she has been impressed by her colleagues attitude to fitness.

"It's unbelievable the amount of staff that come into work at 7.45am and shower after a run," she says.

"Many then run at lunch time and then go home after a day's work and volunteer in their local community.

"It's a way of life for staff here and you can't help but be caught up in it.

"It's great that it's not just a job to them but part of their lifestyle."

Moving from the Consumer Council to chief of Sport NI has been a huge challenge for Antoinette but one which she has embraced whole heartedly.

She loves the fact that so much is being done to encourage sport from grassroots level in the local community right up to supporting our elite athletes.

The Active Communities scheme established four years ago and which three million people have participated in has become a real passion.

She is shocked that the vast majority of women here are not getting enough exercise and it is an issue she is keen to address.

"One way we are doing this is through park runs.

"It's to give women who have never run in their lives before, a chance to start off with a 1km run in their local park," she says.

"There is a huge diversity in what we do which is the beauty of it so we are supporting people at all levels, offering something for everyone.

"It does alarm me that 80% of women here don't get enough exercise yet numbers for female participants in the Active Communities programme is 57%.

"We know we've more work to do and this is another reason why I am delighted to be taking part in the Coastal RunHer.

"I think all-women events like RunHer are great and the fact that there is a walking element this year is good for those women who don't run; it allows them to take part and who knows they might decide to aim to run it next time."

Antoinette adds: "I'm really looking forward to tonight come hail or sunshine and it's a beautiful route."

How you can take part tonight ...

  • A record 2,000-plus women will be lining up for the Belfast Telegraph's third Coastal RunHer tonight.
  • Registration is still open for anyone who wants to turn up and take part in the 10km run along the scenic north Down coast.
  • The race sets off in waves from 7pm at Seapark and follows a picturesque route from Holywood along the north Down coast to Crawfordsburn Country Park, where a celebratory barbecue will be held.
  • After tucking into a well-earned burger, runners can enjoy a complimentary sports massage from Apex Physio.
  • As usual, the RunHer village will have a feast of entertainment to keep children entertained as their mums speed around the 10k course.
  • Once you get over the hill at the 9km point, it's downhill all the way to the finish at Crawfordsburn Country Park.
  • You can still enter online at or register at the event tonight. Entry is £20 and includes a RunHer T-shirt, goody bag and optional bus back to the race start.
  • You can follow the event on both Twitter (@runherofficial) and Facebook (Runher Running) for regular updates. Event partner @purerunning shop will be doing exclusive offers for RunHer entrants via this website.

Good luck to everyone and most of all, enjoy it.

Belfast Telegraph


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