Magazine

Viewpoint: Why did Claire Squires' marathon death strike such a chord?

  • 27 April 2012
  • From the section Magazine
Flowers left in tribute to Claire Squires

The death of Claire Squires less than a mile from the finish of the London Marathon has prompted people to donate £1m to charity. Why are people so moved, asks Brian Draper.

Many of us know someone who has run a marathon for charity, and quite a few in the UK will know someone who ran this year's London Marathon.

My brother Kevin was running, to raise money for CRY - Cardiac Risk in the Young - which screens young people for the kind of heart conditions that cause them to die suddenly, shockingly.

He ran in memory of Shannon, a promising teenage triathlete who had collapsed and died last year after a race. Tragically, it happens.

Even if you didn't know someone connected with the marathon, it might be that you saw the event on TV, and caught sight of that famous sea of runners, rippling out.

Image caption Claire Squires, front, was raising money for Samaritans

The scene always brings a lump to my throat, and makes me want to jump in, to be a part of it all - precisely because I know that most people are either pushing themselves to their limit for a great cause, or (most movingly) running in memory of someone they have loved and lost.

It's a modern-day ritual, then, which seems to bring out the best in us, in a way that's rarely writ so large in our culture. It's both carnival, and spiritual - a reminder that despite our problems, we humans are capable of great goodness, even if we can't run 26 miles ourself, we can celebrate and support someone who's willing to have a try.

Claire Squires was having a try, supporting the Samaritans and running in memory of her brother who died 10 years ago. In a sense, then, her story is a distilled essence of the whole - it's just as ordinary, and just as extraordinary, as everyone else's.

This is not, though, a minor "Diana" moment. The marathon is about the everyday stories of sacrifice, perseverance and love that inspire us personally, and help us to feel proud of everyone running, regardless of whether we know them or not.

I'm proud of Claire Squires, just as I'm proud of Tim from two doors down, who I know worked incredibly hard to get round in a good time, and who raised his fair share for a cancer charity along the way.

Tim came home, sore, and inspired. Claire didn't. This doesn't make Claire worthy of veneration.

But the fact that she did die, trying - just yards from the line - touches most of us, quite reasonably, at a deeper level, and prompts us to respond, somehow, who knows how? But since it's easy to find Claire's charity page online, it's surely not a sin to donate, nor is it entirely remarkable that so many have done so.

On the other hand, giving money doesn't make us a saint, either. Our responses are neither "right" nor "wrong", but human. And so, I expect those who have given money have benefited themselves from the after-glow that accompanies any act of altruism (including running a marathon) - and from fulfilling our natural desire to play our part, however small, in the wider human story, which Claire's now so vividly represents.

I hate to say it, but a few pounds donated to her JustGiving page does buy you a stake in that story. You can add your name to the drama that began to be written on 10 April, when the first person clicked to donate ("Good luck... Love you xx"), and where you can read a friend's pre-race encouragement: "Go! Go! Go! We are on our way to see you at the finishing line!"

Claire's story, perhaps most poignantly and selfishly, reminds us, lest we forget, that it could have been you, and it could have been me. For if a young, seemingly fit woman can be here one moment, and gone the next, then so can we.

So perhaps ultimately, then, each small donation, which adds up to such a great sum, is both selfish and selfless - a ritual act of remembrance, which anyone can take part in, for our secular times, a bit like walking into a church and lighting a candle.

Image caption Many run to raise money for charity

It won't bring back the dead, but it will shine a light for them. It will also say that you care, that you know life is fragile, and that every breath is precious, since it may be your last.

I had a place for the marathon too, running for Christian Aid - but I had to pull out beforehand through injury. There but for the grace of God go I, and go we.

But I'll keep running. Because next year, I'd love to jump into that great sea of humanity myself, to play my part.

And part of me, no doubt, will run for Claire.