Gold Coast grandmother Leonie Thompson, 68, will run her 11th Gold Coast Marathon on Sunday, this year to raise vital funds for CareFlight, while Maryborough father Phil Weinheimer will push his disabled daughter in a specially designed wheelchair for the entire 42.2kms.
Both marathon runners are determined to finish the arduous race but are equally determined to raise awareness for CareFlight’s lifesaving rescue service.
Mudgeeraba local Leonie Thompson would have to be one of the fittest grandmothers on the Gold Coast. She was a late bloomer on the running scene, only beginning when she was 53. But now, there’s no stopping her.
When Leonie is not running, she trains in her home gym or attends yoga classes. Sunday’s race will be her 14th marathon in 16 years and she has no plans to stop there.
“I love it. I particularly enjoy the Gold Coast marathon as I really love the atmosphere. I do a high-five to the grandkids as I run past,” she said.
Leonie will be dedicating her fundraising efforts to CareFlight’s lifesaving rescue helicopter service after a personal experience 26 years ago.
While on holidays at Tangalooma Resort, her 14 year old son, Phil, was stung by a stingray. The barb lodged in his heel and he needed to be urgently airlifted to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.
In a fateful twist, Leonie’s daughter Vicki James, now CareFlight’s Community Engagement Manager, was then working as a nurse at the hospital and was on duty at the time her brother was airlifted.
“We have a lot to be grateful for with CareFlight. They are marvellous at saving people’s lives,” said Leonie.
“I hope this will be the first of many more marathons where I can raise money to help them.”
CareFlight’s second runner Phil Weinheimer, from Maryborough also hopes to give back to the charity that has airlifted his 21 year old daughter Gemma from the Hervey Bay Hospital to Brisbane three times in the last six years.
“CareFlight is the first organisation that came to mind for all the wonderful work they have done for her over the years,” he said.
“Gemma has cerebral palsy and epilepsy and because of that she can get really ill and needs to be taken quickly to specialist help in Brisbane.
“She can’t be transferred by road as she has to get there really fast. CareFlight has saved her life several times.”
Phil and his wife Sam will run the full marathon taking turns at pushing Gemma in a custom made ‘running chair’ donated by a local at the Maryborough Triathlon Club.
This will be Team Gemm’s third year in the Gold Coast Airport Marathon. Five years ago the family wasn’t allowed in the main marathon race as wheelchairs were not permitted.
“In 2014 Gemma was the first person to be pushed in the main marathon event and every year that number grows,” he said.
“It’s about letting them participate in able body sports but also about raising money for cerebral palsy and this year for CareFlight.”
CareFlight’s Executive Fundraising Manager Leanne Angel said the generosity and determination of people like Phil and Leonie made it possible for CareFlight to continue to save lives every day in the local region.
“This lifesaving help comes at an enormous cost of $12,500 per mission, but at no cost to the community so it’s incredibly moving to receive this support from Phil and Leonie,” she said.
Both runners are hoping to raise more money before the big race on Sunday. Phil has surpassed his target of $500 and has raised $650, while Leonie is about halfway to her target of $700.
Since July last year RACQ CareFlight Rescue helicopters have performed more than 1800 rescues across Queensland. In the last 35 years there have been more than 40,000 critical rescue missions.