Skip to main content

CLC Striders tribute to Gareth Harries

« back   approx 5 mins read.

Gareth Harries

A personal tribute from Paul Northup on behalf of CLC Striders Running Club

I wanted to pay tribute to former Strider Gareth Harries, who died from his melanoma in the early hours of Monday morning, 13th May 2024. Gareth was a member of CLC Striders for a good many years leading up to the pandemic and regularly trained with and raced for the club during that time. He was a real character, and a good runner.

It’s amazing to realise that Gareth was first diagnosed with melanoma seven years ago. He told a few of us about it. Quietly. Without any fuss. And then he moved on. He said he didn’t want to talk about it and if ever you asked him how he was doing, he just changed the subject.

Shortly before the pandemic his diagnosis deepened and he was told that he now had ‘Stage 4’ cancer. Again, he told a few of us – without any drama. He jokingly said it was like his beloved Liverpool in Istanbul in the Champions League final in 2005. Like them, he was 3-0 down at half time. Seemingly, it was all over. Yet he was going to play like he had nothing to lose. And hope it went to penalties. (But he never said that he, as Liverpool did that night, would go onto ‘win’.)

This was not a form of wishful denial, but Gareth’s chosen response – one of humour, good nature and stubborn defiance. He was going to live to the max, until he could live no more. And so he did. Gradually, he moved away from the medicalised responses to his illness (after early bouts of chemo and radiotherapy) and instead made changes in his life to reduce his stress and to bolster his wellbeing.

He bought a campervan so he could travel all over the country – most often on his own – to wake up by the sea or a lake, take a cold water swim, then join a local parkrun, and then bowl up to support Cheltenham Town at any away match they might be playing. He changed his diet and was really careful about what he ate and drank. Fortunate enough to have the means, he gave up work along the way, too. He would ruthlessly avoid conflict and any situation or relationship that ‘brought him down’ (in his words).

But this is a tribute to Gareth as most of us knew him at CLC Striders – as a runner.

Gareth came to running later in life after being a footballer most of his years. Way back at school he’d been a good track runner and he soon showed us his speed when he joined Striders, claiming several age category records on the track – especially in the 2018 season, when he was already living with the first news of his diagnosis. He was younger than me, and so vying for achievements in a different age category, but we still enjoyed a healthy rivalry. Most of all, though, he loved competing with Rich Shardlow and Paul Lockyer, whose club records he was always trying to better.

As his diagnosis worsened, Gareth had to adjust his running and step away from competition. He didn’t moan or get cross, he simply started to use his running as part of the way he managed his illness – to keep himself fit and active and to get himself out and about. He’d always enjoyed parkrun, but during, and then after, the pandemic parkrun became his ‘thing’. He volunteered, he paced, he ran round playing music and shouting encouragement to those who were running with him. He would invariably be part of the packdown crew. He was a major character at Cheltenham parkrun until only a few weeks ago, in fact, when, suddenly, his absence for a few weeks in a row signalled what we all knew was always going to come to him one day.

My friendship with Gareth began through running and Striders. But it didn’t end there. After the first lockdown, as soon as meeting up in small groups outdoors was possible, he would regularly message a small group of us to join him each week in Montpellier Gardens – just to share some drinks and chat. To check in. I remember those meet-ups with great fondness after the isolation of the early days of the pandemic.

Over the past few years, we would regularly meet up for a coffee and chat. He told me lots about his life and loves. About his trips to Africa – laden with unused sports shirts and running shoes – to paint wonderful murals with orphans. About paying local militia guides to walk him around the bombed out of streets of Mogadishu in Somalia. And so many other stories about where he’d been around the world and the people he’d met.

Gareth was curious about life and people. He showed a great interest in the festival that I run. But, in usual Gareth style, he didn’t just chat to me about it, he bought tickets for it and came along to experience it for himself. Twice!

Although we knew what Gareth was living with and that it would one day mean his end, news of his death still came as such a shock. Because he lived so well, not allowing his diagnosis to define him or his life it was easy to forget what he was living with. In that respect, and in many other ways, Gareth was – and is – a great inspiration to me, and I’m sure to many of us.

Gareth defied death for years through his stubborn determination to live life to the full as far as he was able. All those of us who know friends and family who have died of cancer will know that Gareth was lucky. Because you don’t ‘battle’ cancer, in that sense. But Gareth did defy it. And that defiance is something I will never forget.

I wonder how many of us will still be running, just a few weeks before we leave this world?