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Bury St Edmunds teacher and pupils from Beck Row Primary Academy, set to complete marathons to raise money for a trip to the Hunstanton, Norfolk, coast

An assistant school principal hopes to use the TCS London Marathon and mini marathon to encourage children, teachers and the wider community to set ambitious aspirations.

Ryan Thomas, 35, will lead by example by running the 26.2-mile event on Sunday April 21 while 251 students at Beck Row Primary Academy, in Bury St Edmunds, are set to complete the TCS Mini London Marathon at their school in May.

Their efforts will raise money for the whole school to go on a day out to Hunstanton, Norfolk, to play on the beach, visit the sea life centre and enjoy an ice cream.

Ryan Thomas will use fundraising from the TCS London Marathon towards a seaside trip for Beck Row Primary Academy, Bury St Edmunds. Picture PA/submitted
Ryan Thomas will use fundraising from the TCS London Marathon towards a seaside trip for Beck Row Primary Academy, Bury St Edmunds. Picture PA/submitted

Mr Thomas, who is the school’s special educational needs co-ordinator, also plans to make a donation to the National Autistic Society.

“Over 50 percent of our children have never been to the beach so what probably sounds like quite a simple thing is actually quite life-changing to them,” he said.

Mr Thomas, a keen runner as a teenager, had a “big lung operation” – a pleurectomy – at the age of 19 after his lung kept collapsing and he was told he would never have the lung capacity to run a marathon.

Teacher Ryan Thomas with his daughter. Picture PA/submitted
Teacher Ryan Thomas with his daughter. Picture PA/submitted

Although he cannot run to the “maximum” that he could before, Mr Thomas will run his fifth marathon on Sunday after running his first marathon in London in 2013.

“Anything is possible for anyone. It’s working within your means and your drive to do that.”

Mr Thomas said running is “exceptionally good for my mental health, that time to get out there and clear your head” but he was also inspired by a former pupil at an autism school in Cambridge who died aged 15 in 2021.

“Andy was in my form group. He had pathological demand avoidance (PDA).

“A really tragic part of his downfall, I suppose, was that when doctors were trying to get him to have treatment and do things, the brain was saying otherwise.”

PDA is part of the autistic spectrum and can be all-encompassing where many everyday demands are avoided because expectations can lead to a feeling of lack of control, anxiety and panic, according to the PDA Society website.

“It was in a lockdown, post-lockdown time and I was very fortunate that Addenbrooke’s (Hospital) let me go in to help teach him and have sessions with him.

“Towards his final couple of weeks, I had a very close relationship with his parents, I would go round for the afternoon and I would just sit and read books and he would drift in and out.

“He inspires me. He was a child who made immense progress in what he was doing but just didn’t get the opportunity.

“When you are 19 miles into your training run and thinking ‘oh my toe hurts’, you just think ‘Ryan, come on’.

“I wish it had never happened but if I can do things to keep his memory going, absolutely I will.”

Mr Thomas, who has two children aged 10 and three, said Beck Row Primary has “quite a diverse demographic” as it is next to a US military base and around one in 10 pupils are from the traveller community.

“When I came here a couple of years ago, it was a school that didn’t have much community about it. There wasn’t events going on, there wasn’t activities,” he said.

Taking part in the TCS Mini London Marathon in schools last year “was inspiring more than the children, it was getting the community involved”, he said.

“The children were really feeling part of something for the first time.”

The school has organised a trip to Wembley and will take pupils to see the musical Matilda in May.

“Things can just happen if we really want to make them happen. You might ruffle a few feathers along the way,” he said.

“I’d never put them at risk but I’d happily write 120 risk assessments if it means that they can have that opportunity and that challenge.

“Our attendance is higher than ever. The school, the parents are happy. Everyone’s on board. We got a very good Ofsted. It’s all got a purpose.

“It’s to inspire teachers as well as the pupils. You can do this and the difference you can make, just kind of broadening minds as to how they can do it.”

Mr Thomas, who got a place through the Team TCS Teachers scheme, is looking forward to showing the children his TCS London Marathon medal on Monday morning: “There’s no better way to inspire them than to show you can do it.

“They are excited by seeing a medal. You’ll get comments like ‘isn’t that the one that’s on the telly?’

“That Mr Thomas is going to do something that’s on the telly, it’s huge to them.

“So many of our children have never been to London and even the thought of me going there is mind-blowing, hence the trips that we are putting on. They are definitely inspired.”

He hopes that next year the school will join the TCS Mini London Marathon event in central London where children can run, jog, walk, or wheel one mile or 2.6km.

“We as a school weren’t ready for it this year but next year that’s the next step.

“Here’s a pic of me running down the Mall, who fancies it? I can guarantee there’ll be a lot of hands going up. They are an enthusiastic bunch.”

– To sponsor Ryan, visit: justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ryan-thomas