Inspirational Lizzie’s Great South Run triumph caps long road to recovery after stroke

Lizzie Printer at the finish line 
Picture: Paul Jacobs (160271-54)
Lizzie Printer at the finish line Picture: Paul Jacobs (160271-54)

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Crossing the finish line at the Great South Run was something that Lizzie Printer yearned to do from her wheelchair.

Watching the stream of runners cross the finish line on television gave Lizzie an almost unimaginable goal – that she would not only cross that line, but she would do it running and in a respectable time.

Five years ago, the 51-year-old’s life changed in a matter of seconds.

She was at her home in Southsea, with her teenage daughters Izzy and Zoe, going about her daily business, when she suffered a life-threatening brain haemorrhage and stroke.

An ambulance was called and she was taken to hospital where she lay in a coma for two weeks with a 10 per cent chance of survival.

When she came round, the active and intelligent woman, who had been in training for a marathon, had to cope with the fact she was paralysed on her left side and she had lost more than 50 per cent of her sight.

She said: ‘I had got in from work. Every other night I would go running along the seafront as I had a London Marathon place that year but that night I said to my daughter to come and exercise with me. As we went to our cellar to put an exercise DVD on, I said “I have got a bit of a headache” and collapsed into a chair.

‘Poor Izzy was just 16 at the time. By the time the ambulance had arrived I had stopped breathing and by the time another ambulance had arrived I was in the deepest coma. It has been a hard five years, but my family and friends have been amazing and now I am here, at the finish line.’

A long and arduous rehabilitation process saw Lizzie eventually regain control of her body, and with the aid of a white stick to help her sight, she completed the 10-mile Great South Run on Sunday in 2hrs 1min.

Lizzie said: ‘I’ve always been a keen runner, and after I returned home from hospital, I remember watching the Great South Run in my wheelchair, just wishing I was taking part. At that stage, I was paralysed and unable to even walk, but it spurred me on and pushed me to get back on my feet.

‘I’ve taken it slowly, building up gradually and getting used to running with my white cane. Running has been a huge part of my recovery and rehabilitation, and so this is the perfect way for me to take on a challenge.’

Her daughters ran the Southsea race on Sunday, with Izzy, now 21, finishing in 2hrs 28mins and Zoe, now 20, finishing in 1hr 57mins.

Lizzie was accompanied by her friend and running partner Charlotte Walker, 47, from Southsea.

They were raising money for the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the Stroke Association – two charities that have helped Lizzie and which she believes can be a big support for others in similar situations.

Lizzie had prepared for the race by taking part in the 5k parkrun every Saturday with Charlotte, who runs on her left side, helping to guide her.

She said as well as having to cope with people who do not notice that she is blind around the course, she has had to deal with prejudices in her everyday life, as people struggle to understand her condition.

She said: ‘The trouble with strokes, in a lot of cases, and with sight loss, is that because people can’t see your disabilities there’s an expectation that maybe it is a bit false. I have learnt that stroke is not just a thing, it’s a multiplicity of things. The fatigue is a big thing for a lot of people, the pain is big thing. Also 80 per cent of people lose their sight to some degree. I’ve lost 65 per cent in each eye, that was all in just one second.

‘I had an aneurysm which ruptured and in that second my sight was permanently destroyed. I had to rely on my mother, my husband and my children for everything.

‘There was no real rehabilitation for me. I feel so strongly about it, as so much of the damage that is done is to your emotional wellbeing.

‘I have got here through sheer bloody mindedness. All my friends say I am a determined stubborn old thing.

‘I have worked on the basis that if you listen to people you will do nothing. I have tried things, I tried to play tennis but that didn’t work so well, but running is good for your mind as well as your body and soul. You can’t get better than running along Southsea seafront.’

Now she says she is looking forward to her next challenge – getting back into her old job in the legal profession. Plus she has created a support group for people who have also suffered strokes.

She said: ‘As a disabled person I have had to fight for treatment. A lot of people don’t have the fight in them, it’s only because I am a bolshy old bag that I am here.’

To make a donation go to uk.virginmoneygiving.com/lizziemanuelprinter