A FIREFIGHTER whose fundraising efforts have earned him recognition as he dedicates his efforts to the 22 victims of the Manchester Arena attack is getting ready for a weird feeling.
Not having a run to prepare for.
However, top of Aaron Lee’s priorities may be easing his feet as he is adamant he will run the Manchester 10K in his boots – even though his colleagues say he should not.
The fireman at Oldham Community Fire Station hopes to make £17,600 in his fundraising total by the time he sets off on his 22nd and final run in memory of the youngest victim two years ago, eight-year-old Saffie Roussos.
For with the 25 per cent gift aid that will be added, that will take the total to £22,000.
“That’s the dream,” said Aaron, who will wear an extra 25 kilograms of weight with his kit, breathing apparatus and an oxygen tank for the run on Sunday, May 19.
Several of the victims’ families will be on hand to cheer the 32-year-old over the line as his 22 kilometres challenge comes to an end.
Then the question, ‘What next?’ is asked. Well, something is already being lined up.
“Things are already in the pipeline,” Aaron added. “I want to get the last run done, then I want to tell the families first, then I’ll make it public.
“It’s going to be quite a weird feeling. This has consumed my life for the past seven months – not just the running but all the fundraising and social media that goes with it.
“It feels a bit weird that the last one is coming but I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be the biggest challenge for me as I’ll be doing it all in my firefighter’s kit. The lads at the station have been telling me, ‘Do it in your trainers,’ but I insist on doing it in my boots.
“I’ve actually been looking up what can happen as they’re not the comfiest. Basically, I’ll be taping my feet up with plasters so I can do it!”
Aaron has been a familiar sight as he has run his first 21 were done in the yellow shirt that rugby league side Salford Red Devils released to raise money for the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund.
His 21st race, the Tatton Park 10k in Cheshire, saw him piped over the last 400 metres by the Manchester Community Pipe Band as he was running it in memory of Scottish victim Eilidh Macleod.
That appeal has now closed but not before £6000.37 was handed over with the rest of the money going to the Manchester Memorial Fund, which hopes to raise enough to create a permanent memorial.
Fans at an Ariana Grande concert were targeted two years ago on May 22 when Salman Abedi detonated a device in the foyer of the Arena.
That night, Aaron was actually a police officer before joining the fire service after speaking to the family of one of the victims.
He has received backing from people including Coronation Street star Sally Ann Matthews and Emmerdale actor Anthony Quinn and on Wednesday, May 8 he was recognised by winning one of the Pride of Manchester awards.
In between time, he has done his usual ‘day job’ which saw him tackle wildfires on moorland and even resurrect for a day the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service’s iconic Welephant mascot alongside Oldham mayor Councillor Javid Iqbal!
But he knows his toughest challenge is to come – as a training run proved. However, that has not stopped him entering the ballot for next year’s London Marathon.
“I went to the Manchester Regional Athletics track and managed to do about a mile in my full firefighter’s kit,” Aaron, born and bred in Chadderton but now living in Milnrow, recalled.
“And it was really hard. That mile really took it out of me, it’s going to be a big day at the Manchester 10K.
“And I have applied to do the London Marathon next year. It gives me something else to work towards.
“I always said that I’m never going to do a marathon as my knee starts to give me grief after 11 miles but I’ve done a couple of half marathons and I’ve decided I’d like to have a go.
“If I get in, it will probably be for the same fund but I must be hungry for medals after getting 22 for the runs I’ve done then giving them to the victim’s families!
“I was actually offered a place in this year’s but I was in the middle of the 22km challenge, so I said no.”
As Aaron becomes recognised for his efforts, he has also found out there are two things that give him no sympathy.
His colleagues at the station on Lees Road and his joints.
“There’s all the usual banter there,” he added. “But on the whole they’ve been a massive help.
“When I was with the police on the night of the attack, I saw how much it affected them and after going to the fire service I’ve seen how much it affected them too.
“And I’ve had a mixed reaction from my knees. For the first nine races they were fine then I hit a bit of a brick wall, I think that was down to tiredness and fatigue.
“But in the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a bit of a second wind. However, I’m trying to take it as easy as I can as I know it will be a completely different challenge running in my kit.”
• If you want to donate to Aaron’s fundraising effort you can do so online: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/AaronleeGMFRS