London Marathon runner who lost son and husband tells others: ‘Don’t give up’

A woman who lost her baby son and husband within days of each other is running the London Marathon to show others that they too can survive “if they don’t give up”.

Rhian Mannings’ one-year-old son George died on February 22, 2012, after he suffered a seizure at home. It was later discovered he had been suffering from pneumonia and Type A influenza.

Her husband Paul Burke, 33, took his own life five days later while suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

London Marathon 2019
London Marathon 2019

Rhian, who left viewers in tears when she told her story on the BBC documentary Mind Over Marathon two years ago, will run the Virgin Money London Marathon for the second time on April 28.

She will be running for 2 Wish Upon A Star, the charity she set up to help other families dealing with the sudden death of a child or young adult aged 25 or under.

“I want to get out there and show people I didn’t know how I was going to survive but everyone can if they don’t give up,” she told the Press Association.

“I don’t do it to raise money. I do it to raise awareness.”

The charity, which works with police forces and health boards in Wales, has supported more than 490 families so far and has already had more than 20 referrals in April.

“We are getting busier and busier,” said Rhian, 41, from Miskin, near Cardiff.

London Marathon Rhian Mannings
London Marathon Rhian Mannings

“It’s life changing. I truly believe my husband would be here today if we had received some support.

“We are in touch with families very quickly to talk to them about the process, the common feelings and grief.”

Rhian, who also has a daughter, Holly, 11, and son Isaac, 10, added: “We blamed ourselves and as a result I lost him and my children lost their daddy.”

Holly and Isaac are looking forward to visiting London next weekend and seeing their mother run: “They didn’t come to London when I went last time but this time they are coming.

“They are excited, they have never been before.”

Rhian said the 2017 London Marathon was “the most amazing thing I have ever done, the hardest thing”.

Paul Burke with son George
Paul Burke with son George

“It was an amazing experience, helped by the programme but on a personal note it was just incredible and had a positive impact on my mental health.

“I suffer from anxiety. I used to struggle going out at night, being on my own, I had to overcome a lot of hurdles to do it.

But it gave me such an amazing feeling when I had achieved it.”

“One thing I struggled with once I lost the boys was feeling worthless. When I finished, I felt amazing that I had done that.”

Rhian said she is “petrified” about next Sunday’s marathon: “I’m not as prepared as I should be. I’m relying on my determination and stubbornness to get me round. It’s worked before.

“I’ll be thinking of Paul and George and the families I support, who we have helped with 2 Wish Upon a Star.”

Running helps her to “get away from stress of life and have time to think”, she said.

London Marathon runner Rhian Mannings
London Marathon runner Rhian Mannings

“I think enjoyment is a strong word. I do it because it really helps me. It takes a lot to get out. I struggle with time. I work full-time. I have got the kids. It has a positive effect on my mental health.”

Rhian, who suffers from depression, anxiety and PTSD, said: “My PTSD and flashbacks are more controlled. But if someone comes to the door and I’m not expecting them I go to pieces.

“It’s seven years since I lost the boys and I couldn’t allow myself to carry on like that, for the children.

“I live the life for them and for myself.”

Last year Rhian married IT contractor Craig Mannings, 50, and said some people assume she is now “in a good place and life’s brilliant”.

“They couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said.

London Marathon 2019
London Marathon 2019

“It’s finding someone who can walk with you.

“Craig is amazing. He’s so supportive. I’m so lucky to have found someone.

“He knows he has to share me and my thoughts with Paul. I love him more for that.”

Rhian added: “I never thought I would survive, meet someone else, smile or go on holiday again.

“I never wanted to give up. I just wanted to keep going.

“It’s not about forgetting. They are part of me every day but I need to move forward.”

@LondonMarathon This is why I’m running again this year. For Paul and George – my boys – and all 490 young people who have passed suddenly since 2012. @2wishupon is making a difference. I will be running for each of the children whose names make up the star! X

— Rhian Mannings (@rhian_burke) April 9, 2019

She urged anyone else who is struggling to cope: “Just never give up, reach out.

“I have talked about my feelings. That’s why I have been able to survive. Confide in your friends and family.

“You can live as long as you keep going and believing in yourself.”