A FORCE FOR GOOD hub | Turning personal tragedy into a force for good
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Turning personal tragedy into a force for good

James Thornton, Global CEO for The Intrepid Group

For a soon-to-be parent, the idea of losing a child before or during birth is unthinkable.

But for many people around the world, the unthinkable has happened. You might not notice them but make no mistake – they’re there.

While a loss of such magnitude can make it difficult for individuals to move forward, some people manage to work their way through and use their grief as a catalyst for something good.

James Thornton, Global CEO for Intrepid Group, and Natalie Placko, James’s wife and GM Global Brand Strategy for Intrepid Group, are two such people.

Last year, James and Natalie were expecting their second child, but at the midpoint in the pregnancy, complications suddenly arose, resulting in early labour and a stillborn birth. After many months of grieving, at the turn of the year, the couple made the decision to turn their loss into something positive. They wanted to help support others who’ve lived through similar experiences. And so James – who’s lived in Melbourne since 2007 – decided to run a marathon in his hometown of Brighton, England.

“The loss was the most difficult thing either of us have ever experienced,” says James. “Particularly for our five-year-old son, who was expecting a new baby brother in a few months’ time. But by the time last Christmas came around, we were beginning to be ready to try and find some positivity from this awful event.”

James had run a couple of marathons before, but that was close to 15 years ago, when he was in his mid-20s. In fact, he went to his final interview for Intrepid Travel immediately after completing the London Marathon – still wearing his pin-stripe suit from the race. “It was not appropriate!” he says.

James signed up for the Brighton Marathon, specifically, because the actual run took place very close to the anniversary of his and Natalie’s loss of their baby boy. He ran to raise money for Tommy’s, a UK charity dedicated to supporting families who experience miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth, as well as trying to find ways to prevent such instances occurring in the first place.

Before the marathon, James ran up to 40 kms a week and upped his food intake significantly. Then, his marathon hopes were dealt a significant blow. “I hurt my hip and could only manage six kilometres in the final 3 weeks,” says James. “I didn’t think I’d even be able to make the day!”

But he did. And he even set himself the goal of running it in under four hours (the average run time for a men’s marathon is around four hours and 22 minutes). “I’m very competitive by nature,” he says. “When I reached the 21-mile mark, the pain was so intense, I just wanted to give up. I thought my hopes of finishing the mile in under four hours were gone. But I dug deep and pushed through.”

Such was the intensity of James’s second wind that, despite pain, James managed to run the whole 26.2 miles in three hours, 59 minutes and 31 seconds – beating his target by 29 seconds. “It was so incredibly emotional,” says James. “I can’t tell you what that felt like.”

Before the race, James has reached out to a small group of friends and colleagues to let them know he’d be running, and that he’d be raising money for Tommy’s. In total, he raised some £6,000 GBP (around $11,500 AUD) for the charity.

In addition to his sterling Brighton Marathon effort, James also grew a beard during his training having been inspired by the Beards of Hope campaign, which encourages bereaved fathers to speak up about their pain and experiences. He shaved it off after he completed the marathon.

And he’s not settling there. James has already set himself his next goal and has signed up for the New York Marathon in November!

“Nat and I both know that no amount of marathons run or money raised can replace our loss,” says James. “But if the money we raise can go towards helping others who’ve experienced the same thing, even in some small way, then that’s one tiny positive we can take away from this.”

Visit Tommy’s charity for more information.