XFM Radio’s Trudy Kerr on how running cured her epilepsy

Trudy Kerr is best known in Malta as the lovable voice of the Big Drive Home on XFM, a Londoner who came here via New York Telstar records and design giants Fitch

Trudy Kerr eyes her sixth marathon
Trudy Kerr eyes her sixth marathon

Funny and enchanting in person as she is on-air, beneath the trademark ready-laugh is an unbending will which has confounded scientists – having apparently cured her of epilepsy by driving her to run marathons. She leaves for Toronto later this month to run her sixth.

In 2010, Kerr was diagnosed with post-traumatic epilepsy after a horse riding accident. “I was re-schooling a racehorse. It bolted and as it went towards the road at 40km/hr, out of control, I pulled a jockey stop – grab one rein, pull the other. When you do that, you know you’re going to fall.”

The fall left her with two brain haemorrhages and a ruptured spleen, waking up two days later in hospital. It was only around four months later that she realised something was wrong. “I called my ex-partner to say my grandparents were coming next week and did he want to meet them. And my grandparents had been dead for 20 years.”

Electric shock-like sensations throughout her body, olfactory hallucinations, speech and memory disruptions soon followed. Doctors broke the news that she was epileptic and the symptoms she had been experiencing were simple partial seizures. “It literally felt like someone had pulled the ground from under me,” she recalled.

At their peak frequency, Kerr was having up to 60 seizures per 24-72 hour period. Her neurologist had told her the condition was either going to stay the same or get worse, “and you’ll have to take three tablets a day for the rest of your life.” But when the doctor told her the medicine’s side effects she balked. “I said: I’m just going to live with the seizures.”

She had signed up for her first marathon four years ago partly in response to jibes about her “pit pony” legs and in part, by a desire to shatter the stigma related to her condition. Kerr says she had no idea that long-distance running could effectively treat her condition.

And effective it undoubtedly is: Trudy is coming up on the fourth anniversary of her last seizure.

Every year, 385,000 runners apply for the London marathon’s 39,000 places. “I applied to run on my 40th birthday for three epilepsy societies and they all wrote back and said ‘you’ve got a place’. This just does not happen.”

The reason she was snapped up, she says, was because people often don’t run with epilepsy, fearing the exertion would trigger seizures.

What nobody was expecting was that running would, essentially, cure her. 

As part of her physical preparation for the event, Kerr ran the 2013 Malta half marathon. “As I crossed the start line of the Malta half marathon... I had my very last seizure. That was four years ago this spring. I’ve been four years clear.

“There’s a lot of research into epilepsy and the causes and dealing with it, but my story of recovering from epilepsy, and recovering with no medical intervention whatsoever, is rare.”

Her startling recovery is made more remarkable by the fact that she hadn’t been seeking a cure. “It’s the happiest coincidence I’ve ever heard of. People who are affected by epilepsy generally don’t exercise because they’re scared of having a seizure. I, on the other hand, was blind ignorant,” she says, laughing again.

“It never occurred to me not to exercise... I had no idea that it was going to inadvertently cure me of a condition which has no known cure.” 

Kerr successfully completed the Malta Marathon on the first anniversary of her last seizure, a moment captured on video. “That’s why I cried at the finish line,” she says, smile momentarily fading. “I couldn’t believe I’d managed to get to a year and had no seizures whatsoever. Four years on, I’m really grateful.”

The irrepressible radio presenter’s efforts have raised significant awareness and funding both for research and support for sufferers. “The Malta Caritas Epilepsy Association is doing amazing work. [Committee advisor] Prof. Janet Mifsud has been so supportive, she came to all the marathons to cheer me on.”

Eurosport’s moral support and sponsorship was also critical in her success, she says. “When you get somebody telling you ‘I believe in you, you can do it,’ man it makes you want to do it.”

Sensible training is important, stresses Kerr. “You don’t just get up and say ‘Oh, I’m going to run a marathon next week.’ When I started running, I literally could not run 100m. I got up this morning and ran 6 km.

“Find your motivation. I’m competitive, in this respect, with myself. And don’t forget – once you’ve been running for 20 minutes your endorphins kick in. Oh my word do I love them! All you’ve got to do is get yourself past 20 minutes.”

Even the ever-positive Kerr is nervous about her upcoming marathon. “Running for 42 km is a big deal and I’m nervous because I’ve set myself a goal and I don’t know if I can reach it.” I’m betting that this pony won’t disappoint.

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