Chris Dixon never thought he’d be a runner, let alone be running a full 42km marathon in the Melbourne Marathon Festival in December 2021. ‘It was when we found out about the little issues we’re having with our daughter Grace that I started running as a bit of an outlet to help with my mental health.’
A routine ultrasound at 15 weeks revealed that baby Grace – or ‘Gracie’ as her dad calls her – had an arm that doctors described as ‘a little bit smaller.’ A follow up scan gave Chris and his partner, Emma, some confronting information: Grace’s right arm was completely missing from the shoulder down. ‘It was definitely heartbreaking. We didn’t really know what [caused it] or how to react, or what the future looked like for us as a family, or what the long term effects would be. There was a lot of grief in that.’
After repeated visits to the Royal Women’s Hospital for scans, blood tests and genetic counselling, the family’s doctors concluded that the cause was a vascular incident in the first few weeks of Grace’s growth: completely by chance, the blood flow necessary for the limb to form was never established. ‘From there it has been a lot more positive, [the scans showed] that it was just the arm that was the only thing that was an issue and everything else has come back all good and well,’ Chris explains.
To help quiet his thoughts as he processed the information about his daughter, Chris turned to running. ‘At the time it was mainly to just tire myself out so I could stop overthinking a little bit and then it sort of just turned into this thing that I really enjoy and I find really therapeutic and helpful for myself.’
Now 31, Chris’s last main foray into fitness had been when playing footy as a 16-year-old. ‘I’ve always tried to eat healthy and maintain some level of fitness but I definitely didn’t go to a gym or anything before getting into running. I didn’t really understand how much goes into running a marathon, I thought it would’ve been pretty easy!’ he laughs. Chris started his training doing runs of 3 to 4 kilometres. ‘And I was absolutely knackered!’ Over time, he worked himself up to running around 8 kilometres per day with a long run of about 35 kilometres on weekends. ‘I think I’m doing okay, the body’s holding up alright so we’ll see!’
Chris wearing his running gear. Photo: Chris Dixon
Chris has become a regular at Princes Park where he completed lap after lap when lockdown travel restrictions were in place. Now that Melburnians can travel further afield, Chris often uses the Capital City Trail for his longer runs but he still likes to finish with a few laps of Princes Park. ‘It’s great there! It’s a nice little scenic route, it’s quite welcoming.’
‘[Running has] definitely made me reflect on the things that Gracie may not be able to do but also the ways that she can overcome it too.’ Chris has been raising funds for Limbs 4 Life, an organisation supporting families and individuals dealing with limb loss and limb differences. Once Grace arrives, Chris and Emma expect they will become more involved with Limbs 4 Life’s initiative for children and young people, Limbs 4 Kids. Chris’s original fundraising goal was $100 for each kilometre, a total of $4,200. At the time of writing, the total amount raised is approaching $6,000.
One of the biggest personal rewards from Chris’s dedicated training is the impact running has had on his life: ‘My mental state’s improved so much,’ he says. ‘My mental health and overall fitness – I feel much better about my appearance. [Training] makes you think a little bit more about what you’re eating and putting into your body. Overall wellbeing is something I’ve noticed an improvement in.’
A first marathon is an achievement worthy of celebration, and Chris intends to mark the occasion with some old favourites: ‘I haven’t had a beer in about 8 months in preparation of all this [so] I’ll probably have that,’ says Chris. ‘Ollie’s Pizza Parlour on Sydney Road is probably my go to.’ After that, he’ll get right back to training: Chris plans to run the Uluru Marathon in 2022, this time raising funds for a men’s mental health cause.
‘Give it a go!’ is Chris’s advice for anyone considering running a marathon in 2022. ‘Running is such a great way to keep active and feel good about yourself. You can do anything if you put your mind to it.’
This message of persistence and positive mindset is something Chris is determined to impart to baby Grace, due on Christmas Eve. ‘You can do anything if you put your mind to it,’ he repeats. ‘If her dad can run 42ks and get through that then she can do absolutely anything because she’ll be much brighter and smarter than I am. She can definitely do anything that she wants to. She’s just gotta put her mind to it.’
The Nike Melbourne Marathon Festival will be held across Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th of December 2021
Chris’s Limbs 4 Life fundraising page can be found here.
Want to find new routes to run in Brunswick? check out this article.