Elena Rapley, 61, originally from Russia, now living five days a week in her mum’s one-bedroom flat in Marylebone, is running the Royal Parks Half Marathon on Sunday 10th October, in aid of the Carers Network.
Elena is regarded as an unpaid carer; she has looked after her poorly mother, Emma Zhilina, 89,since 2010. Elena explains: “My mum had a stroke in September 2010. Following this, she had a large amount of medical treatment and nearly made a full recovery. But then, unfortunately, she suffered another stroke, after which her mobility and independence deteriorated. This was coupled with her dementia progressing.”
She continues, “As mum’s stroke happened when she was crossing a road, she was too scared to cross any roads alone. She also stopped cooking for herself and she couldn’t have a bath or shower. Then her arms became weaker, her fingers disfigured, and her activities became more and more limited.”
In December 2020, Elena decided it was no longer safe for her mother to spend the nights by herself. She states:
“Whilst she was trying to use her commode, my mum endured a fall during the night, I had to rush to see her from my home in Barnes as an ambulance was called. This made me realise I needed to stay with her during the evenings as well; I have stayed with mum every night since. When the carer comes in the morning, I can go home to see my husband and, in the evening, I return to my mums house.”
She adds: “Only recently has my mum stopped getting up as frequently to use the commode. Every time she risked falling and did a few times. As a result, I couldn’t sleep at all, as I always had to be on alert to help - it was really tough.”
Elena describes her typical day as a carer:
5.45am: Alarm goes off.
6.30am-7.30am: Elena’s ‘Freedom Hour’ starts as their morning carer provides personal care for her mum. Elena uses this hour to run.
7.30am-8pm: Caring duties, including washing bedding, cooking and feeding her mum, cleaning, helping her mum every time she wants to move, going shopping, taking her to health appointments and generally looking after her.
8pm: Elena takes her mother to bed.
Unpaid carers tirelessly look after their family, friends, and neighbours, which saves the NHS millions of pounds a year.
Despite her busy schedule as an unpaid carer, Elena labels running as her “therapy”, she explains: “Running is my saviour. It provides me with energy and happiness; I can’t image mornings without running, I feel stronger and more confident each day.”
Now an intrinsic part of her everyday routine, Elena only took up running during the first lockdown:
“A few years ago, I had tried running once with my husband but had to stop behind him as I was struggling to catch my breath! Instead, I would swim during my ‘free hour’, as the Carers Network arranged a year’s gym membership, but then in the initial stages of COVID pools were closed and in March 2020 I ran again for the first time and the rest is history!”
Elena is currently training to complete the Royal Parks Half Marathon in October. Training is going well so far: “From Monday to Friday, I run approximately 7km around the park, and I increase this every other Sunday with a longer run. I was never sporty in school, so this is a real challenge for me!”
Elena is raising money for the Carers Network, an organisation that has personally supported her and given unpaid carers a sense of importance and normality, she explains:
“Unpaid carers are often excluded from ‘normal life’, from society, as people are often not aware of the role and responsibilities that we undertake. We can’t uphold our caring duties with a normal job, we forgo socialising and entertaining, we can’t plan our holidays or have spontaneous weekends away and we don’t have normal salaries and can’t save for our pension.”
She continues: “The kind, professional and efficient people of the Carers Network have really supported us both during and after the various lockdowns.”
Amongst training for the half marathon, the Carers Network have set up an initiative which Elena volunteered for – this August, she ran a knitting class for her fellow carers. After the pandemic exacerbated social isolation of unpaid carers, the scheme intended to help unpaid carers, like Elena, enjoy in-person activity together.
To donate to Elena’s cause, go to: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=elena-rapleyrpfhm202122653&pageUrl=1