Be A Good Sport: My Little Girl Deserves All My Medals

Will you Be A Good Sport in 2022?

We’re looking for supporters who’d like to take part in sporting challenges to help make a difference for or family of NHS hospitals in Greater Manchester. You can choose to support our whole hospital family, or any one of our individual hospitals.

You can also choose from a range of events to suit your availability and ability – dates and distances to suit all ages.

And when you do decide to Be A Good Sport you’ll know that your money will be supporting our amazing patients. Patients like PixieBelle Sykes, who lives in Ashton-under-Lyne. Here, her father Andy, aged 39, tells us their story….

It was all too much of a coincidence for me not to do more for Charity. And in a strange way, PixieBelle’s diagnosis led me into a new hobby that I now really love.

It started in 2018 when I ran the Great Manchester Run 10K. I did it because there were some Charity places going and I just fancied it. After I finished it, I didn’t have any interest in carrying on running.

But then it was only a few weeks after that I spotted there were places for the Manchester Half Marathon later in the year. I thought that sounded interesting and a bit more of a challenge to aim towards. I signed up in June and about 10 days later PixieBelle was diagnosed with a rare type of brain tumour called pilocytic astrocytoma.

PixieBelle during her treatment at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital

I don’t believe in fate or destiny, but I was doing something for Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity and then suddenly our family were relying on the hospital ourselves.

That half marathon event suddenly had so much more meaning. It became massively important that I did well and we raised lots of money. At first, we never told anyone outside of our immediate family about PixieBelle’s diagnosis and we were very private about it. But then we decided to start sharing our story of why Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital was so important to us and people really reached out wanting to help.

At first I was aiming for £250 but that target soon went out the window. Everyone was coming up to us saying they hadn’t realised what PixieBelle was going through and asking what they could do to help. Some people sponsored us but others told me they had decided to do a run themselves – and when they went out running they’d always have our family in mind. That was so touching to hear.

Running also ended up being a great escape for me. I’d go out running and literally think about nothing. It was my time to completely switch off. From then on I’d start recognising people who went running the same time as me. I hadn’t lived in Ashton very long and I’m not from round here so it was great to start making some running friends. I then found out about a group called Daddies Escape and started running with them.

Andy with some of his running friends

Once I started running with them I really got into the social side of things. It all happened at a time when I was really needing friends and they were all there for me.

Soon after the Manchester Half Marathon I did the London Marathon and having Daddies Escape, as well as PixieBelle’s diagnosis, really motivated me.

I’ve done lots of runs for the Charity and PixieBelle’s school and our family, including my wife Katie and son Zac, have all got involved. We also had a “Pixie’s Belles” running team for the 2019 Great Manchester Run 10K, her school have done fundraisers, Curzon Under 12s and Ashton United football clubs have both held events, my friend Michael Tipper climbed to base camp Everest, my former employees at Freshfields did some fundraising and other friends and relatives have done Charity events like the Manchester Marathon and Humphrey’s Heroes Abseil. Together we’ve raised £45,159.75 which is just incredible. It’s amazing how that first sporting challenge has snowballed into all these people helping support PixieBelle’s friends at the hospital.

Fundraising has been a team effort for the Sykes family and their friends

The most special events for me were the three marathons – Manchester Marathon in 2019 because it was my first marathon and in our home city; London Marathon 2019 because it is such a prestigious event and the family were there to cheer me on; and London Marathon 2021 because it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. This time around the family didn’t come down to London because of Covid, but I had so many messages and I did a Facebook Live video which got so many comments. I was also on the BBC live coverage – holding up my favourite picture of PixieBelle, Zac and the Charity mascot Humphrey.

Andy clutching his favourite photo while taking part in the London Marathon 2021

Throughout all the training and running PixieBelle has been my biggest supporter. All the medals are for her – she deserves them and so much more for what she has been through. She is so proud of me, she always talks about it. But what I’ve done is nothing in comparison to her.

Although the tumour was non-cancerous, when it grew it put pressure on her optic nerve and caused partial sight loss. So even though it wasn’t cancerous, it was really important to shrink it as it was in such a delicate area.

She has been through so much chemotherapy, needles, blood tests, scans, appointments. She was five when she was diagnosed and this year [February 2022] she’ll be turning nine. She’s been at the children’s hospital so much it feels like a second home. She’s been in hospital more times that most people will be in a lifetime. As much as we’d never wish it for our daughter, Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital is honestly the best place in the world. It sounds so odd if you haven’t been through it, but she really does miss it now – that’s how special the staff make it for the kids.

The staff remember everyone and look after you so well. During Covid only Katie could be in with her, so it was nice that she had adults [the staff] she could speak to and support her through things when I wasn’t there. The anxiety of having your little girl in hospital is just overwhelming but all the staff were so supportive and understanding.

We’ve had lots of ups and downs with PixieBelle’s treatment. The tumour was shrinking, then growing, then just not doing anything and not responding to treatment as we’d hoped. It has been a very tough few years. But at the end of last year, 2021, PixieBelle rang the End of Treatment Bell. It was the best day. I can’t tell you how special it was.

I’d tell anyone thinking of taking part in Be A Good Sport that it opens you up to things you wouldn’t have thought of. I started off just doing a one-off event for Charity and I definitely wouldn’t call myself a runner. But now I’ve made friends for life and I’ll never give up running.

Some people run to race and get a good time – I just ran to feel good and to do something for my little girl. It doesn’t matter what time you finish. What matters is that you’re doing something for such a vital and worthy cause. That ‘feel good’ factor is just amazing.

  • Have the Sykes family inspired you to join in the fun? Visit our Events Page now.