Nurses often feel they get more than enough exercise on the wards but that is not the case for orthopaedic nurse Mark Dabbs.
He runs nine miles to and from work every day, come rain or shine, and has run in all bar five of Europe’s capitals to raise money for charity.
He has participated in marathons all over the globe, raising funds for the local hospice, Marie Curie Cancer Care and Guide Dogs for the Blind. He has written a novel, researched and written about local history, organised photographs with celebrities for a charity book and become an international ambassador and health promoter for Walsall. Oh, and works as a nurse in a busy Midlands hospital, too.
His role as Walsall’s greatest ambassador began with his running. “A friend of mine told me how he had seen Walsall described in the media as “full of fatties” and laughed and said I ought to do something about that as I was Walsall born and bred and so fit,” says Mr Dabbs.
“At the time, I was running marathons all over the world, and my next one was in Cape Town, so I took them a gift from Walsall and arranged to meet their mayor for a bit of publicity for the town.
“She met me and asked me to attend a dinner that night and meet the president. I assumed she meant the president of a group or club. I had no idea until I turned up that she meant the president of South Africa. I met Nelson Mandela that night.”
Former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, comedian Ken Dodd, chef James Martin and newsreader Angela Rippon have also made it into his photograph album.
“I decided to meet and interview celebrities, and get a photograph with them and my Walsall scarf for a book called Travels with my Scarf,” says Mr Dabbs. “It’s soon going to be finished, and I am going to sell it for charity.”
Although writing, running and fundraising may feel like full-time careers, Mr Dabbs says they do not detract but enrich his work in nursing, which he has been involved in for 12 years. He took up nursing after a series of jobs he didn’t enjoy, such as factory work.
“I’d not done terribly well at school, but I’d always loved health so I went to night school to learn nursing,” he says.
“I think my other work inspires patients. Having run and suffered injuries and pain, I know how hard it can be for them when their bodies are not in top condition and how difficult it is to motivate yourself. I show how important it is not to stagnate but to use the life you’ve been given.”
He feels his running has inspired his fellow nurses to take care of themselves.
“People are always asking me where I am off to next and what I am up to. I’ve encouraged a couple of nurses to do the Race for Life, and given them advice about running,” he says.
“I run to work - it’s three miles there, and I take a six-mile route back. It saves me parking but also allows me to wind down and keep healthy. It’s important to have something to help you relax. Working on an orthopaedic ward you see a lot of dementia patients, and that can get to you if you don’t have an outlet.”
For Mr Dabbs, being a nurse is not just about the job but being a role model and taking care into the community.
He was inspired by Sister Dora (nurse Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison), who risked her life to look after men involved in railway and industrial accidents in Walsall, attending over 12,000 patients in 1867 following an ironworks explosion and a smallpox outbreak.
“I take pride in my local community. I’ve painted out graffiti, cleaned up the canal and tried to promote health. I think nurses should play a big role in society.”
He’s been rewarded for that with a good citizen award from Walsall council. “And that is my proudest achievement,” he says.
At 35, he still has more ambitions. “I’d love to run Easter Island in the Pacific. And I want to finish off running every capital city in Europe and continue being an ambassador and show the whole country that we are well-intentioned good folk, not all ‘fatties’. That’s important to me.”