AN inspirational woman has told how running has changed her life following a car accident and a gruelling battle against cancer.

Emma Benstead nearly lost her foot after she ran out behind an ice-cream van into the path of a car when she was just six.

The inside of her foot was crushed and she was left with no bone in her big toe, which affects her stability and balance.

Emma was dealt a further blow when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2012.

She underwent an intensive course of gruelling treatment and following her ordeal, she lost confidence and her motivation to exercise.

But she plucked up the courage to try out the Greenock parkrun, a weekly free timed 5km run, and has not looked back since.

She has shed five and a half stones and won her battle against cancer.

Emma said: “Parkrun is something I decided to do for myself and luckily I have found it is something that I love.

“I have to be mindful of my own limitations and while I will never be as fast as some people, parkrun has allowed me to see what I can achieve and motivated me to improve.”

Emma, who works as an IT manager, was advised by medics not to take up the running following her accident as a youngster.

She said: “I ran right in front of a car which was being driven by my grandad. It was my fault.

“I was in hospital for six months and I was told I was lucky not to lose my foot.

“My foot is two sizes smaller that my other, I have no bone in my big toe and the inside of my foot was crushed.”

In 2012, aged just 38, Emma was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

She added: “To be told it was cancer was frightening.

“I had about seven smear tests which were clear so I thought everything was fine.

“But I started to experience heavy bleeding and was admitted to hospital.

“They diagnosed it straight away.”

Despite the early diagnosis, Emma had to have chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy as doctors decided to not take any chances and prevent it from spreading.

Emma says the intensive seven-week treatment regime left her feeling exhausted.

She said: “It took me about an hour and a half to get dressed and things like drying my hair became a real chore.

“Just having the energy to hold the hairdryer was difficult.

“It took about two years to get back to where I was previously.”

During her long road to recovery, Emma decided to get fit.
She signed up for Weight Watchers and initially joined the gym.

She said: “Everybody was running on treadmills but because of my foot, I was always told it would be a bad idea to do impact sports.

“But I decided to give it go.”

After building up her confidence on the treadmill, Emma then plucked up the courage to try running outside.

In June last year, she laced up her trainers and went along to the Greenock Parkrun.

She said: “When I arrived that first day I saw all of these ‘experienced’ runners warming up. 

“I immediately phoned my husband from the car and said I thought I’d made a mistake because everyone looked fast and professional.

“Eventually I mustered up the courage to get out the car and join in and I am so glad I did — it was a life changing decision.

“The run director and the volunteer team made me feel instantly welcome.”

Emma completed her 50th Parkrun in September this year and has slashed her time by 10 minutes.

She said: “I wanted to see if I could improve my time and I also got my husband David to join me. 

“Although he has run for many years he had never been to Parkrun, and we both get a lot from going, even though we run at a different pace.

“I have met a lot of very nice people and my running has also improved.

“I am a lot more confident.”

Emma, who now trains with Greenock Glenpark Harriers, says running helped her to lose a significant amount of weight. She is pictured, inset, before she took up the sport.

She hopes her story will encourage others to take up exercise.

Emma said: “My advice to other first-timers is not to be put off by how fit or experienced other people may appear. 

“Get out of your car and take part — it is scary but it is very rewarding if you do.”

Greenock Parkrun takes place every Saturday at 9.30am at the Esplanade.