By Francesca Casonato
A volunteer aged 62 has run 10 marathons in 10 days to raise money and help refugees fleeing civil war – just as he once did.
And Celestine Agbo, from Streatham, who took part in the London Marathon 20 times until 2008, did the first one, on September 4, with only one training run.
The father-of-two grown-up children thought his running days were behind him, but decided to pick up his trainers again and run 10 marathons on consecutive days in Dulwich Park, raising £15,000 to support the South London Refugee Association in Lambeth.
He said: “The idea came to me because I wanted to recognise the amazing work this organisation does. At first they tried to talk me out of it because they cared about my well-being. It was a ludicrous idea, But I persisted. Every morning, I left the house at 6 o’clock and, amazingly, each day I was able to run in less than three-and-a-half hours.
“It’s quite eventful, considering that I haven’t been running for more than a decade.”
Celestine, a refugee himself, came to South London from Nigeria 52 years ago, after his mother rescued him and his sisters from a camp in Biafra. He said: “My mum was in London to work and she saw us on the News at 10 report about the refugee camp.
“At the time it was forbidden to leave or go back into the war zone, but nothing could stop my mother.
“She found her way behind the enemy lines, she rescued us and brought us back to England. I didn’t know any English at all at the beginning, so I had some tough times in school. But after 52 years, this is my home now.
“My mother died over 12 years ago, but she was very proud of my marathons.
“She wasn’t really forthcoming with her praise, but you could tell she was proud. She was always saying ‘You’ve done well, son, but take life a little bit easier’.
“Every morning before I left to run the marathon, I looked at her and my father’s photo and thanked them for being with me. It wasn’t just me running because I had their energy with me.”
Celestine has been working for the food bank of the South London Refugee Association since the beginning of the pandemic.
After a life spent running the London marathon for various charities, he decided to challenge himself again and raise money to help the Afghan refugees.
Celestine said: “What was initially a run to help the food bank has now become a run to help refugees from Afghanistan.
“Some people couldn’t flee the country and families got separated, trying to find a safe place for their children here.
“This breaks my heart. No child should see that, no family should experience that. What refugees go through is horrendous. I know that because of my own experience and this motivates me to support refugees.”
Celestine managed to finish it on time on September 13, for a total of 262 miles. He said: “I decided to run 24 laps a day in Dulwich Park, which is where I used to take my children to play. It’s a familiar place. I talk to people when I run, I smile and give them the leaflet about my initiative. Some of them were curious about what I was doing and they were really glad to be able to support me.”
The £15,000 Celestine has collected so far will help create several activities for Afghan refugees and their families, according to the charity Director Celia Sands.
She said: “We want to be sure we can support people coming here without a place to stay, with more one-on-one counselling and some group sessions.”
About his wife, Celestine said: “She supported everything I do, although she had some concerns about the strain this was going to put on my body. So she made sure she would be up before me at 4am to make me breakfast and my energy drink. She was totally behind my initiative.”
Pictured top: Celestine Agbo