Why I Run: Kelly Hetherington

Seeing her coach of 14 years laying in hospital terminally ill with a brain tumour was almost too much for Kelly Hetherington to handle. Recalling the memory two years after Maxine Corcoran’s passing still brings tears to the Australian 800-metre champion’s eyes. “Max was such a strong character, she taught me how to be patient and gave me the passion to be a full-time athlete,” says the 24-year-old.

When Maxine lost her short battle with cancer in late November 2011 her husband Danny Corcoran, former Athletics Australia CEO, took over as Kelly’s coach. “We helped each other through an incredibly tough time,” recalls Kelly. And it worked. The runner of 17 years began the 2011-12 domestic season with a bang clocking a host of PBs and putting the London Olympics within reach. But at the Perth Track Classic Kelly was dealt another blow. “I thought I had a stomach bug so I sat the race out, but when I ran at the next meet in Sydney my legs completely shut down,” she recalls. Tests revealed Kelly had contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune condition that causes nerve inflammation and paralysis. For six months Kelly couldn’t run, needing complete rest. “The worst part was watching the Olympics from my bed,” she recalls. But with the support of her partner and family, she slowly rebuilt her strength and returned to the track in time for National Championships in Sydney a year later. “I was ready for a big race,” she says. But when Kelly crossed the line in first place with a PB of 2:01:22 qualifying for the 2013 Moscow World Championships she was awestruck. Competing in Moscow and the European summer season was a steep learning curve, says Kelly of running in front of 90,000 strong crowds against the world’s best. “I was definitely on my L-Plates, but it has made me a better runner as I set my sights on the Rio Olympics in 2016. “There’s no turning back now and I know Max would be proud!”

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