500 Miles

 “Your son has a learning disability”

As had been the case for many families before, these words were to determine the future path of the Bruce family. The doctor had advised Mr and Mrs Bruce not to hope for great things from their son, Jamie.

“What’ll we do Jim?” Agnes pleaded with her husband, already picturing a bleak future for her son.

When Jamie was born just under a year ago there appeared to be no problems. He seemed a normal, healthy baby. However, as the weeks passed, Jamie wasn’t developing as he should and so they took him to the doctor.

Mr and Mrs Bruce accepted the situation and although they loved Jamie and he was well looked after they had no great expectations.

Agnes worked in a local supermarket while Jim had long service with GEC as an electrical engineer. They lived in Leith, the east of Edinburgh meaning their football allegiances lay with Hibernian. The Scottish singing duo ‘The Proclaimers’ were also Hibs fans, their song ‘Sunshine on Leith’ an anthem played every home game at Easter Road.

As a baby it was another Proclaimers song that got Jamie’s attention, ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)’ always had him going, his eyes lighting up, his legs and arms moving along with the sound.

Two and a half years after Jamie was born he was presented with a little brother, Donald. It had not been plain sailing even before Donald came along. Jamie was a frustrated baby somehow aware that he was unable to do things. Jamie communicated his frustration as most two-year olds might. In this way he was no different.

This situation was exacerbated after Donald came along, a bright baby quick in his progress. It wasn’t long before Donald was ahead of Jamie with the skills natural to a growing child. Life was proving difficult for Agnes and Jim Bruce and even the Proclaimers couldn’t pacify Jamie all of the time.

Jamie did advance even if it was slow. He did walk, and talk although his favourite question was “Why can Donald do that and I can’t?”  It was Donald who responded.

“C’mon Jamie, keep trying and you’ll do it”.

Whereas their Mum and Dad had accepted the situation as it was, Donald did not and Jamie was proving determined unwilling to accept his lot.

As time moved on so did Jamie’s improvement helped by Donald. Jamie attended mainstream school but he started two years later and was in the same class as his brother.

Because of his perceived disability Jamie had to endure bullying at school. He stood up to the bullies asking them to stop, although Donald went for the direct physical approach, landing him in the headmaster’s office or more than a few occasions. One boy in particular, Gary Thomson was persistent with his taunts and Donald, equally persistent, eventually taught Gary this was not good for his health.

“I don’t care what the school says” Donald maintained as yet another letter came home. “If the teachers aren’t going to do something then I will.”

His Dad explained that his approach was perhaps not the best way to go about things but underneath he was proud of his younger son sticking up for his brother.

Jamie still got frustrated and if things got too much for him he ran. The more upset he was the further he would run. Initially the family were worried about this but Jamie always came back and always much calmer. They let him run.   

As he got older if Jamie got angry he ran, farther and farther. One night, just short of his fifteenth birthday Jamie had been away for around an hour but came back as usual, calm and collected.

“Where did you run to tonight Jamie?” asked his dad

“The racecourse”.

“Musselburgh racecourse! That’s twelve miles there and back”.

Even when Jamie was not frustrated he ran. To school and back, errands for his mother, whenever and wherever. Not only did running help Jamie when he was angry but it stopped him getting there in the first place.

The next day during a break at work Jamie’s dad was talking about his running.

“All the way from Leith to Musselburgh Race Course and back in around an hour” Jim said “That’s just over twelve miles.”

“That’s some going if he ran that distance” responded Jeff, one of Jim’s colleagues.

Jeff was an athletics coach with the local Harriers and was always going on about the youngsters who were potential Olympic medal winners.

“Jim. Would your son be interested in joining the Harriers?”

“I don’t know Jeff. Jamie can be quite a handful you know. He’s got a disability and get really angry at times.”

“Even if he was to come and watch. He can then make up his mind if he wants to have a go.”

“I’ll ask him and see what he thinks” said Jim as the men returned to their work.

 Jamie was reluctant at first but after watching the Commonwealth Games on TV he spoke with his dad.

“When is that running group dad?”

“They meet on a Tuesday and Thursday at Meadowbank Stadium son”

“Is that a real running place?”

“Yes son, the Commonwealth games have been held there twice.”

That seemed to do the trick and the following Tuesday Jamie and his dad went to the Stadium to have a look. Donald was also there.

“What a big place” said Jamie as the athletes were going through their various warm up routines.

The Bruce’s watched for a while when suddenly Jamie stated he wanted to go home.

“We’ve not been here long” queried Jamie’s Dad “Why do you want to go so soon?”

“I think I know” responded Donald.

His dad, puzzled, looked at him and followed his stare at a tall gangly youth who was jogging up and down the track.

“Who’s that?”

“That’s Gary Thomson, the guy who used to bully Jamie until I finally convinced him it was not a good idea.”

“Can we go now?” pleaded Jamie “I’m not joining if he’s part of it”

The following week Jamie and Donald were back this time with their training kit. Donald had convinced Jamie that it was all a long time ago and Gary Thomson wouldn’t even remember them. Jamie only agreed to go if his brother was to join in.

Gary Thomson wasn’t at the training session and Jamie seemed to enjoy himself, Donald realising there was something where Jamie was better than him.

“You’re a much better runner than me Jamie” stated Donald as they made their way home.

“Don’t worry Donald, keep trying and you’ll get better.”

The following week Gary Thomson was at the training and as Donald said did not notice them which surprised Donald as he had only told Jamie that without really believing it.

The coach decided to have a 3000 metres challenge for his distance runners. Jamie and Donald lined up for the run as did Gary Thomson. Jamie was soon in the leading pack with Donald some distance behind. Gary was also in that group. Runners gradually dropped off the pace and into the final lap Jamie was just behind Gary. In the final straight Jamie was catching but Gary held on to win. Both runners fell to the ground exhausted as the others finished, Donald somewhat behind finished and rushed to his brother to check how he was.

“I want to go home” wailed Jamie “Gary Thomson beat me again”

“You did great Jamie. Remember he’s been training longer than you”

“I don’t care, take me home!”

At that point Gary walked towards them, Donald clenching his fists, back at school again.

“Well done Jamie. What a run. That was great” panted Gary still exhausted

It was Donald who responded first.

“You remember us then?”

“Of course I remember you two. How could I forget? I’m ashamed of how I treated Jamie at school and you gave me what I deserved” Turning to Jamie Gary continued “You’re a great runner Jamie. I had to be at my best to beat you. You need to keep at this.”

Jamie looked puzzled not sure how to react. Gary held out his hand helping Jamie up.

As things turned out Gary was an elite athlete on the brink of representing Scotland. Jamie became a key member of the Harriers winning all the way to the National Championships where it was his turn get over the line just ahead of Gary.

The Bruces sat in the stand as Jamie was presented with his medal and couldn’t believe their ears, the opening bars for ‘500 miles’ blasting over the PA system. A huge grin spread across Jamie’s face as he waved to his family.

Mr and Mrs Bruce were proud of both their boys, Donald having done so much to support and encourage his big brother. They had journeyed a great distance further than anything the Proclaimers had written.