ARTHRITIS robbed Ashley Heath of his childhood after his mum Ruth was crippled with the disorder when she was his age.

Now the 48-year-old from Old Town is taking on the London Marathon this year to raise awareness of the condition and help prevent other youngsters from going through the same thing.

Ashley, whose mum developed rheumatoid arthritis when he was only 11, said: “I don't really remember Mum without arthritis.

“I remember the terribly curled hands and painfully swollen knuckles. I remember the callipers. I remember the cries of pain, and the crying.

“Arthritis insists on making every day painfully difficult.”

After his father died in 1983, Ashley became the sole carer for his mother, who had been a commercial traveller in the theatre travelling thousands of miles every year before she died in 1997.

He said: “Mum was a free spirit, always moving. Indeed, she needed to keep moving. Familiar surroundings soon lost their appeal with the enticing prospect of the new always around the corner.

“But arthritis caged mum. She spent hours a day in her chair, the tedium leading her to sleep a lot.

“I’ve realised that arthritis didn’t only imprison mum but it also fundamentally changed our relationship.

“When her condition first hit, my errands and helping-round-the-house quotient began to build, as you would expect.

“After dad’s death, my responsibilities grew and I became the parental unit. I went from child to carer with not much in between.”

Despite the constant loving care Ashley gave to his mum, he still believes he could have done more.

He said: “After dad died in 1983, I became primary care giver. It’s a task I look back on with dissatisfaction. I could have done more.

“I think this only became plain to me a number of years ago, when a colleague’s mother would come into our studios, where she volunteered.

“I realised that here was a man, roughly my age, who enjoyed a mature, equal friendship with his mother. I wondered what that must be like, and envied him.”

This year Ashley, who regularly swims at Health Hydro in Milton Road, and took on the Swindon Half Marathon last year, hopes to double that distance in his fundraising efforts for Arthritis Research UK.

He said: “There is a marathon in my lifetime and to delay after running the Swindon half makes no sense. I’m not getting any younger.”

The one thing Ashley says will keep him going around the course is thinking about his mother’s smile.

He said: “Despite the pain and limitations I still remember Mum’s wide, open and genuine smile.

“That will keep me going round London.”

His efforts will also help to raise awareness of the condition and build on treatments not available 40 years ago.

“A lot of what I remember of mum’s arthritis speaks of the time she suffered it,” said Ashley, who works for BBC Radio Wiltshire. “Understanding of the condition and its treatment has moved on.

“I’m sure that women aged under 50 with arthritis have more options today but that’s only come about through expensive research.”

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