Last year, 30-year old Claire Squires tragically collapsed less than a mile from the finish line of the London Marathon and later died in hospital.
The following morning, photographs of the healthy, bright, smiling young woman and keen fund-raiser filled the front pages of our newspapers and a stunned nation responded quickly, with donations to The Samaritans on Claire’s Justgiving page sky-rocketing to over £950,000. Claire left behind a great legacy, but she also left a huge gap in the lives of her friends, family and boyfriend.
Yesterday, an inquest into Claire’s death revealed that a few months before the race, she had been online and purchased a substance which her boyfriend, Simon Van Herrewege said had been much-discussed amongst fellow gym-goers. Soon after her death, the substance was banned in the UK after being linked to other fatalities.
Some reports have splashed the specific name of the drug whilst others have made speculations about how much she may have taken; it all seems not only too much too soon (the inquest is ongoing), but also unnecessary, delving into details we don’t need to know. Nobody so far seems to have addressed what, to me, should stand out way beyond the intricacies; the fact that an intelligent, fit, healthy and knowledgeable runner lost her life, probably as a result of such a casual action, an innocent transaction, completely and utterly unaware of the risk.
In the same month that Claire Squires collapsed and died, the manufacturers of the drug she had mixed into her water bottle intending to take when she “hit a wall”, was challenged in the USA for a lack of safety evidence. The same drug was found in the bodies of two US soldiers who died in training and in 2011, was banned in Canada. Despite all of this, the drug was at the time readily available in the UK at the click of a button and even on the high-street in so-called ‘health food’ shops.
In a statement made today, Claire’s boyfriend Simon Van Herrewege said: “Claire was passionately against the use of drugs and would never, ever, have taken anything that would have caused her harm or even worse risked her life. She innocently took a supplement which at the time was entirely legal, and widely available on the high-street, and somewhat worryingly, apparently used by so many others.” She had been running the London Marathon for The Samaritans in memory of her brother, who died after a fatal overdose.
As I responded with sadness on Twitter, a handful of people raised the question of whether recent discoveries of doping amongst professional athletes had made using performance enhancing drugs more acceptable amongst amateurs. I'm no expert, but just the thought of comparing this tragic loss to the cowardly, remorseless revelations of certain cyclists makes me feel horribly uneasy. We respond with disbelief and anger when we see reports of athletes using substances to improve their performance, but the Lance Armstrongs among us know exactly what they are doing, are fully aware of the risks and must deep down be willing to make a possible sacrifice in exchange for a period of glory and a handful of gold medals or yellow shirts. That sacrifice is a loss of respect, a tarred reputation… it could be much worse. These incidences of cheating, of doping, are certainly not in any way comparable to the tragic loss of an innocent life last April; anyone who thinks it is ought to think again.
Taking a health or fitness 'supplement' not knowing the damage it could cause and indeed, having no reason to believe that it could be dangerous, is not all that different from being on a fad diet or a hardcore fitness regime; it is perhaps pushing the boundaries, pushing the body's ability to go beyond what is considered normal, but it isn't illegal or wrong and where competition isn't involved, it's not cheating either. If everyone at the gym was talking about and/or using the same supplement, discussing how much further they could run, how it took that edge off when all you want to do is stop but there's two miles left to go, it's easy to see how easily someone wanting to beat a previous marathon time could be influenced to try them out.
People do stupid things. Sometimes they know these things are stupid, sometimes they don't. It doesn't make them stupid or in any way deserving of what comes to them. When I was at university and struggling with anorexia, I researched and bought diet pills online which I knew contained an ingredient which could cause cardiac arrest. That was stupid; I knew the risks, I knew my life was in danger but I was ill and desperate. Claire didn't know and wasn't aware of the danger she was in, or the pressure her heart was under. Nobody should have had to wait at that finish line for her not to ever make it.
The fact that anybody was able to openly and easily buy and take a substance known to have killed people in other countries is absolutely outrageous and even worse is that despite it now being a banned substance, there are many more on the market that we simply don't know enough about. Tighter controls are needed and the sooner they are introduced, the better. The findings of this inquest only add to the tragedy of the whole situation. Not only is this a case of a life cut too short, it's also a stark reminder that even those things that at the time seem so innocent; that crazy mad diet, those extra lengths we sometimes go to in order to achieve a better time or a higher or lower weight, or that unsuspecting pill or powder, can lead to such awful devastation and loss.
Donations are no longer able to be made through this page; however, people can donate directly through Samaritans’ website to the Claire Squires Fund -
The current total is £941,369.00 plus £201,930.75 gift aid from 80,898 donations.