By Louise Walsh
A grieving dad whose little girl stole the nation's hearts by becoming the youngest ever competitor to run the Dublin marathon before she died, is holding an inaugural run in her honour.
Alanna Russell made history just before her eighth birthday last year when her dad Keith pushed her along the gruelling circuit in a wheelchair.
The little girl, whose warm smile and twinkling eyes endeared everyone she met on numerous runs throughout the country, passed away suddenly at her Navan home last December 13.
Alanna was born with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy with no speech or use of her arms or legs. She also had impaired vision and epilepsy.
She was one of twins when she was born nine weeks premature but sadly her sister Isabelle, with whom she's now interred in St Mary's Cemetery, died shortly before birth.
Through running with her dad Keith, she managed to raise almost €70,000 for the Meadows Respite Centre who used the funding for much-needed renovations and a new nine-seater wheelchair accessible mini-bus.
Now her family wants to honour Alanna in an annual not-for-profit, not-for-charity six-kilometre run in the town on Sunday, July 29.
'A Day to Remember Alanna' will start and finish from 121 Fitness in Mullaghboy and take a circular route around the town.
Keith admitted that, only six months after losing Alanna, the family were finding every day 'tough.'
"It's very tough but you just have to keep occupied. We're not great at saying how we're feeling but we'd talk about Alanna all day," he said.
"We were given a box of pictures by her special care unit in Bailis but to be honest, we haven't had it in us to open it yet. It's one day at a time."
Keith described the support from everyone, both locally and nationally since Alanna passed as "fantastic".
He said: "We received hundreds of calls, cards and messages from all over the place. It's amazing to see how much Alanna had an effect on people.
[quote]"Everyone said it was her eyes and smile - you couldn't not but get drawn in by her and she loved all the attention when she was out running."[/quote]
"I would never have started running or fundraising if it wasn't for her - she loved being out and about.
"She made us realise that people with disabilities can do anything as long as they have the right people around them.
"At the end of the day, to us Alanna was our little girl and our beautiful daughter that we lost."
Keith is urging everyone to sign up for the event with myrunresults and the €20 fee covers the medals, the t-shirts and goodie bags and children go free when running with their parents.
There will also refreshments and face painting on the day, which will see Keith and Team Alanna officially handing over the mini-bus to the Meadows Respite Centre.
Further information on the event can be obtained on Team Alanna on [url=https://www.facebook.com/teamalanna1/]Facebook or on Myrunresults.