Instead of standing alongside thousands of others to take part in the London Marathon on behalf of the Derby Rimmer MND Foundation, on Sunday the former England winger Karen Carney will be doing her bit at home to help cover the £4bn shortfall charities are facing as a result of the cancellation of sporting events across the UK.

For Carney there is a “silver lining” to the race’s postponement until 4 October: the chance to build up “more momentum and have a little bit more of a push to get some recognition out there for the cause”.

Carney’s cause is that of Stephen Darby, the husband of her former England teammate Steph Houghton. Since Darby retired from football after his diagnosis with motor neurone disease in 2018, the former Liverpool, Bradford and Bolton player has united with the British Forces veteran Chris Rimmer, a close friend who also has the disease, to launch the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation to raise awareness and fund research into the condition.

Running the marathon for the foundation was a “no brainer” for Carney, but it was her mum who gave the push she needed to take on the challenge. “I did the half marathon in October last year just to keep me ticking over when I retired and to give me something to focus on,” Carney says. “I crossed the finish line and my mum said to me: ‘Well done, but you know what you’ve got to do now, you’ve got to do the marathon and you’ve got to do it for Steph and Stephen.’”

Carney had been talking in the BT Sport studio with Stephen Warnock, a friend of Darby, about a way they could do their bit, and her mum’s words provided the answer. So Carney and Warnock signed up to run together.



Karen Carney consoles Steph Houghton after England’s defeat in the World Cup third-place play-off last year. Photograph: John Walton/PA

“Obviously I know Steph well, and I know her husband through seeing him after games,” Carney says. “I just wanted to show my support for Steph. I have seen how it has affected her and she’s been amazing this whole time. And more importantly I want to help him as well because this is a disease which has no cure; I think life expectancy is between one and five years. It’s devastating illness and I don’t think people know enough about it.”

Coronavirus may have delayed the marathon, but Carney will be doing toe taps with a football on Sunday instead as part of the 2.6 Challenge which is raising money for Save the UK’s Charities by asking people to come up with an activity to take part in on what would have been the 40th edition of the London Marathon – for example, by running or walking 2.6 miles, or for 26 minutes, juggling for 2.6 minutes, or bringing together 26 people on a video call.

Carney has relaxed the intensity of her marathon preparations but it has provided her with some important support during lockdown. “I’m just kind of doing half marathon stuff and once we’re hopefully out of lockdown I’ll start to build my training up again. I think it’s really important to keep running for mental health in this lockdown and it’s really helped me – it’s given me structure.”

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The strength shown by Houghton, Darby and Rimmer has also helped her drive through the ups and downs of training.

“I’ve known Steph for years and years. I wouldn’t say like we’re besties or anything like that, but I think the world of her. The one word sums up Steph is ‘class’. How she conducts herself, she’s always positive, never moans, she’s a captain for her football club, captain for our country, her performances continue to be outstanding, her performances at the World Cup were first class. She’s an absolute role model to everyone, including myself.

“I have struggled at times when I’ve been training for this marathon. It’s been challenging trying to run 20 miles and juggle personal and professional life as well. It’s difficult but when the times get hard on those runs I think of Steph, Stephen and Chris and the a bigger picture. To help them and their families is a big honour for me.”

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