Patsy Holt, or Gigi as she's fondly known, crawls out of a purple tunnel closely followed by her two-year-old granddaughter Alanna, squealing with delight.
"Where's Mousie gone?" Patsy asks playfully as Alanna, nicknamed Mousie, pokes her head out of the tunnel ready to pounce. At 73, Patsy shows no sign of breathlessness.
That could have something to do with the fact this Auckland grandmother is also preparing to run her first marathon!
"I know, I'm mad," she laughs. But, as she explains, this feat is in aid of something very special – her brave little granddaughter Mousie.
Just last April, the toddler suffered four strokes. Her mum Lucianne O'Shaughnessy tells of her and husband Bevan's fear as they noticed their youngest daughter was unable to walk.
"She completely collapsed on the floor," Lucianne (43) recalls, telling how they rushed their daughter to Starship Children's Hospital immediately.
After a raft of tests, doctors concluded that Mousie had suffered three minor strokes and one large stroke.
"I was like, 'No, that can't be, that doesn't happen to two-year-olds,'" says Lucianne, still in disbelief.
Sadly, children do suffer strokes and studies have shown they are most at risk in their first year of life with 11 in 100,000 children suffering strokes from birth until age 18.
As the family, which includes Mousie's four-year-old sister Laila, prepared for the unknown, Mousie started to show signs of improvement about a week after the strokes, and was able to walk which greatly improved her recovery. However, the family's "new normal", as Lucianne explains, was frequent hospital trips.
"We were up at Starship so much and they were absolutely amazing. Due to the medication Mousie was taking to prevent any further strokes, a knock to the head or bruising would mean spending between four to six hours under observation, which is hard when you have a toddler!"
Thankfully, after nine months, doctors declared Mousie's health was stable. "We're still on edge, but less so, and I think that's how it's going to be – it will be a case of wait and see. We can notice little things, little weaknesses since her stroke. But otherwise most people wouldn't know. She's so happy and full of life, and she's reaching all of her milestones," Lucianne says, smiling at her little girl.
It's clear the past year has been a very trying time for the family, which Patsy admits was extremely hard to watch. So she hatched a plan.
"Starship was amazing to the whole family. What they've all been through, I just wanted to give something back and I couldn't think of anything."
Baking was out of the question, she said. "I don't do much of that. But one thing I knew, I was fit."
Before Mousie's strokes, Patsy was an avid walker and made twice-weekly visits to the gym.
If she could regain her physical fitness, she knew she was up to a physical challenge to raise funds for two organisations that helped the family immensely – The Starship Neurology Department and the Young Stroke Thrivers Foundation. "I've never run long distances before but I knew a half marathon wouldn't be as impressive, so a marathon it was!"
Patsy started training in the middle of October for the Rotorua Marathon in May, with basic fitness and a goal to run five kilometres. By November, she was running five kilometres every week, and with the help of a training programme she downloaded off the internet, Patsy is now running 32 kilometres! This is alongside a five-day training programme at Mount Albert YMCA and a physio who "puts me back together!" she laughs.
But Patsy is nervous about her challenge and admits there have definitely been tough moments where she dreads putting on her running shoes.
"When I struggle, I think about Mousie," she says. "I replay in my head when she did her first walk in hospital. So if she can do it, I can do it. It's her courage, her determination and her spirit and her fun and laughter that inspires me. I think about the entire family's courage."With the day fast approaching, does the supergran have any plans after she's raced around Lake Rotorua? "Well, right now, I can't see anything beyond the finish line," she says.
Lucianne adds, chuckling, "We'll definitely be taking her to the spa in Rotorua. Mum is amazing and we'll be there cheering her on."
"Oh, no, Bevan, Lucianne, Laila and Mousie, they're the heroes in this," insists Patsy.
"But I know there'll be a big hole in my life when I'm finished. So I have a plan. The World Masters Games are in Japan in two years' time, so I was thinking I might train for the 100 or 200 metres!"
She smiles and pauses as she helps Mousie up onto her lap for a cuddle. "And we'll get back to normality, whatever that is."
Patsy has set up a Givealittle page to raise money for her run. If you would like to donate you can do so here.
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