Disability row after London Marathon ban on family due to son being in wheelchair
A couple who discovered that the exhilaration of running helps their disabled son have accused London Marathon organisers of discrimination after being denied a place.
David and Sandra Kerr from Annahilt, Co Down, have clocked up hundreds of miles while pushing Aaron, who relies on a custom-built wheelchair, on 35 marathons.
Aaron suffers from numerous conditions including cerebral palsy, epilepsy and a chromosome disorder, which means he communicates solely through body language.
The 21-year-old has experienced relief through assisted running, but the trio - known as Team Kerr - were dealt a blow after being denied a place in the prestigious race due to governing rules.
"The reason they have given us is that as Aaron cannot complete the marathon under his own power, then he cannot be a competitor," David explained.
The disappointed dad said event organisers have stated that rules permit a competitor to be helped to an upright position, but not in a forward motion.
David said they are "incredibly frustrated" at the decision.
"We've spoken to the International Association of Athletics Federation ourselves and they have said that Aaron can take part as a non-participant (meaning his time would not be counted) at London's discretion.
"We just see it as discrimination against Aaron and it's very upsetting," he said.
David, who donated a kidney to his son in 2010 after he suffered chronic renal failure, has already taken part in over 100 events with his family in a bid to promote inclusion and disability awareness.
He added: "We are a closely-knit team and the three of us train together. We don't try to break any records, our aim is to get from start to finish.
"We're not Usain Bolt but we start and finish as a family."
The family had hoped to run in a charity place with the Mae Murray Foundation, which aims for a society with true participation in leisure and social settings, regardless of age or ability. The charity is now snubbing the event in protest.
It said the London Marathon "is lagging behind other major marathons by continuing to exclude certain disadvantaged groups" of people.
David added: "We have a 100% safety record and testimonials from numerous race directors complimenting us on our professionalism and attitude, but London Marathon have refused to let us enter.
"We have asked for Aaron to take part as a non-competitor, but that has also been refused."
Nick Bitel, chief executive of London Marathon Events Ltd, said the rules have been explained to the family "in some detail" as he defended the decision.
"An individual cannot be considered a competitor in the London Marathon unless they are participating in the event under their own power," he said.
He also explained that the London Marathon has "high runner density, some very narrow roads on the course and some steep hills" which other races may not have.
"London Marathon Events is proud of all it has done to develop and promote para-sport and always works to encourage participation in our events by people with a disability," Mr Bitel added.
"We support many, many people with a disability to complete the London Marathon, ust not when they are being pushed by another person, as this contravenes the rules."
However, Team Kerr's passion for assisted running - which started with mum Sandra and has also led to the founding of the Aaron's Army charity - is set to continue.
The family have vowed to live out their motto of "running and rolling together" as they train for the Belfast Marathon next weekend and the O'Neill's Walled City Marathon in Derry on June 2.
"We just love spending time together as a family, it's quality time for us," said Sandra.
"It's great seeing Aaron about in the fresh air."