If the millionth finish of the Great North Run in
2014 confirmed one thing, it was that this is an event defined not by the world
class athletes that lead the race, but the thousands that follow, lapping up
the cheers and applause of the watching crowds.
Amongst that great swell of runners, there’s one man
that has enjoyed more support than any other, a constant fixture in the Run for
the last 28 years: Jarra Jim, Great North Run legend and local hero.
Jim Purcell’s story is one filled with tragedy and
heroism; success against the odds and, above all, an unbreakable spirit.
Born and raised in South Tyneside, Jim was one of the
many young Geordies that saw active service in the Second World War, fighting
at Dunkirk as the youngest member of the 50th Northumbrian Division.
When reminiscing about his military service, Jim
always returns to the camaraderie of the ‘Geordie lads’ around the world and
their reputation for kindness and charity; much of the squad donating money to
local families who had lost everything during the bombing campaigns.
Returning to Jarrow at the end of the war, Jim met his
wife Betty and they lived happily married until her death in 1982. In her
memory Jim took part in his first Great North Run in 1986, proudly wearing his
wedding ring on a chain round his neck.
Each year he completed the Run brought Jim more and
more attention, with spectators lining the streets to cheer his name and
television cameras beginning to pick him out in the crowd.
Jim has raised thousands of pounds for charities and
schools throughout the region, now aged 93, his list of achievements is quite
remarkable, completing events around the world and even representing the nation
as a torch-bearer for the London Olympics in 2012. Along the way, he has
inspired countless others to start running, no matter what their age or level
It may be thanks to his daily baths in freezing cold
salt water or his committed exercise routine, but Jim shows no signs of
stopping yet. To hear more of Jarra Jim’s story visit the Great North
Greats exhibition at Cleadon Park Library, 10
Prince Edward Road, South Shields, NE34 8PS until 24 December 2014.
> More details about Great North Greats at Cleadon