BELINDA Peden remembers exactly how she felt the first time she met her late friend, Kristen Keegan: intimidated.
“She was a force to be reckoned with,” Ms Peden said. “I was a shy country kid who had just started working at the University of Newcastle and was organising staff cards when Kristen waltzed in, dressed immaculately, looking fierce. What I loved about her was she was intimidating. She asked ‘Who said to do this?’ and ‘Why do we need to do that?’ and laughed years later and told me it was all bluff, but she really was incredible. We ended up working together and I got to know her as a beautiful, genuine, loyal, incredibly cheeky woman.”
The pair formed a friendship that spanned 20 years and saw Ms Keegan become godmother to Ms Peden’s son and their daughters attend the same school.
When Ms Keegan received her “devastating diagnosis” of a grade four brain tumour called a glioblastoma last year, Ms Peden promised her she would run the Sydney Marathon on September 17 to raise funds for the Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF) and its work funding a brain cancer care coordinator. She started training that night. “I told her ‘I need you to be there to give me a sledging’,” she said. “Kristen said ‘Of course I will’. I thought if anyone could beat it, it was her.”
Ms Keegan passed away on February 1 this year, but Ms Peden said her friend was always with her. “I would run a marathon every day for the rest of my life if it brought her back to her family – I would not even need to see her, just know that her family could,” she said. “I carry her in my heart all the time. I think of her constantly while I run with a mix of determination and sadness. I think in some ways running was her gift to me in dealing with grief.”
Ms Peden was introduced to marathons in 2010 as a way to give a “two fingered salute” to her own illness.
She was diagnosed with a blood disorder in 2001 and had her spleen removed in 2002, but fell ill with a bacterial infection in 2009 and spent a week in hospital fighting for her life. She completed a half marathon six months later and marathons in 2010, 2011 and 2012 before hanging up her joggers.
“With Kristen, I thought ‘How could I in some way let her know I’m sticking beside her and sharing as much of this as I possibly can?’ ” she said. “I thought if I could do something physically hard with a positive outcome, it would be something we were in together, we would be sharing a goal. I was putting a marker out there for us to work towards and did not think for the life of me she would not be there.”
Ms Peden hopes to raise $15,000 for MHF. Details: donate.grassrootz.com/blackmores-sydney-running-festival-2017/markhughes/mhf-a-team/belinda-peden