ON THURSDAY evening, Scrabo Striders and the wider running community lost a legend.
Heath Graham passed away peacefully at his home, surrounded by family after a short illness.
Heath was truly one of a kind, as anyone who has ever had even the briefest of interactions with him would have known. His encouragement, humour, kindness and relentless positivity made him an excellent Couch to 5k leader, club member, coach and friend.
As the many hundreds of tributes came pouring in over social media on Friday, it was evident just how many lives Heath touched and changed for the better. The outpouring of respect extended to Friday evening’s social run from Conway Square, where some 120 runners from several local running clubs showed up to observe a minute’s silence, appropriately bookended by the blowing of a coach’s whistle.
Heath’s own running journey was significant, starting with regular sessions at Couch to 5K, gradually increasing distance and building fitness before eventually progressing to running five marathons (most recently Dublin in October 2023), which he took great pleasure in telling anyone who would listen.
However, it was coaching and encouraging others where Heath really shone, starting as a leader for Couch to 5k groups before joining Scrabo Striders and becoming part of the coaching team, completing both Leader in Running Fitness and Coach in Running Fitness qualifications.
Training sessions led by Heath were always memorable, both for the laughs during them and the way he was able to get everyone to give their all. At races, he was a constant encourager. Whether club members or just those he happened to end up near, Heath was always full of exactly the right motivational words people needed to hear in the toughest moments.
These particular talents came to the fore with his well-known ‘party bus’ pacing groups during local races such as the Ards Half Marathon. In November, Heath’s achievements were recognised in fitting fashion when he was awarded the Captain’s Choice award by Striders captain Andy Haylett at the club’s annual awards dinner.
Andy highlighted Heath’s innate positivity, and that he was helping change people’s lives and improve their mental health simply by being himself. Heath was delighted to have won the award and, in his typical style, he fashioned the trophy into a makeshift medal which he wore to the next club social run.
Heath gave his all to the very last; running and coaching right up until just weeks before the illness took him so devastatingly quickly. His larger-than-life presence will be missed for an incredibly long time to come, and for many club training will never quite be the same again. But his legacy lives on in the memories of all those who had the privilege of knowing him, as they hear his voice ringing in their heads when they need it most: “you’ve got this, kid!”.
Heath is survived by wife Carol, daughters Natasha and Nicola, parents Tom and Jenny and four grandchildren. The committee, coaching team and entire membership of Scrabo Striders Running Club extend their sincere condolences to them. Rest in peace, Coach Heath.