A champion gymnast, whose dreams were shattered by a devastating injury, is making a sporting comeback to help her local hospice.
Eighteen-year-old Alice Kitchen from Stanley was on crutches for more than two years after an injury during a friendly basketball game wrecked one of her knees.
But after much pain and tears Alice – who is head girl at St Bede’s Catholic School and Sixth Form College in Lanchester – is slowly on the mend and wants to fulfil an ambition to take part in the Great North Run and raise money for Willow Burn Hospice, which is just a stone’s throw away from her school.
“It was hard to stay motivated and keep positive about the fact that my knee was actually going to get better. At the time I felt that was never going to happen. I was never going to be able to do anything ever again,” she said.
“Until January I couldn’t even walk around the Metrocentre for a couple of hours because my knee wasn’t strong enough.”
But a new physiotherapist has helped put her on the road to recovery. “When I first went to see him I’d been told that I would certainly never run again and I would struggle to walk for long periods of time. But he’s really helped build my confidence,” she said.
Alice – who is in her final year at St Bede’s, hopes to study maths at Newcastle University and become a maths teacher – was a highly successful acrobatic gymnast. She was a member of a pair and trio who were age group British champions four times.
Her former team-mates are now in training for major national and international championships. “It was really hard because it wasn’t my decision to give up – the injury meant I had no choice,” said Alice, who is still involved in gymnastics through coaching and – even when she was on crutches – coached school netball teams.
Carefully, she has started running again but is realistic about what she can achieve: “I intend to run the whole 13 miles, but if I have to walk it will still be a massive achievement from nine months before when I wasn’t even able to put my foot on the floor.”
She will be cheered every step of the way by her family, fellow students and teaching staff at St Bede’s.
Elaine Graham, the school’s Director of Sixth Form & Assistant Headteacher, said: “It was a shared celebration the day she came into school without crutches. She is a truly remarkable young lady – as an individual and an academic student. To want to give her time and commitment to Willow Burn is absolutely admirable.”
St Bede’s, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, has worked closely with the hospice since it was established in 1989. As well as fund-raising, students – hoping to study medicine, for example – have had work placements there.
Willow Burn’s Community Fundraiser Elaine Ryder said: “I think Alice is an absolute inspiration. Young people at her school have seen what she has been through and it’s great to see her come out the other side. We are so grateful to all of our supporters, such as Alice and our other Great North Runners, who are willing to put themselves through pain to help our patients and their families.”