Run to RioA RIO Olympics marathon hopeful returned to her old school on Friday to inspire the next generation of GB athletes as part of a 5,912-mile charity challenge.

Aly Dixon joined her former PE teacher, Julie Richardson, at Thornhill Business and Enterprise College, in Sunderland, who welcomed her as ‘an inspirational role model’ – and apologised for putting her on the reserve list for the school’s cross country team years ago.

Mrs Richardson, who is now assistant headteacher at Thornhill, said:“Apologies to Aly now, but I’d l’d like to think that this decision spurred Aly on. It’s a real tribute to her incredible tenacity and determination that she’s got to be where she is now, an Olympian.

“Aly is an inspirational role model to our Thornhill pupils showing just what can be achieved from humble beginnings on our school track and fields. We are all extremely proud of her efforts and achievements and obviously we wish her every success in Rio.”

Aly led several children out onto the school fields as they became the first to take part in the Run to Rio campaign – where groups and individuals are being asked to ‘buy’ and complete marathons and add their tally to the 5,912 miles from Sunderland to Rio, in Brazil. The money raised will go to St Benedict’s Hospice in Ryhope, Sunderland, and Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Pupils from houses within Thornhill will be forming teams of 26 pupils over the next couple of weeks with each team member running a mile each to complete the marathon distance. The winning team will be the fastest to complete the full 26 miles.

Aly, a member of the Sunderland Strollers running club, said it was great to be back at her old school and to see her old teachers.

“I still hold a grudge for not being picked for the cross country team,” she joked. “Actually I think it just spurred me on. I’m the kind of person who will go out of my way to prove people wrong. I never showed much talent running at school but I was always the first to volunteer and I had a die-hard attitude

“It was lovely to meet all the kids and run with them. My message to them was to not let other people put limits on you and to not put limits on themselves – have a dream and do everything you can to achieve it.

“This charity campaign is quite special and a cause close to my heart as both my grandfather and younger cousin were helped by St Benedict’s and Marie Curie.”

After Thornhill, Aly went onto St Margaret’s Primary School, in Durham, where more than 52 children ran a half a mile each as part of the challenge.

Helen McDaid, headteacher at the school, said: “It’s been fantastic to welcome Aly. She’s a great role model for the children and she shows just how far you can go with talent and a can-do attitude. Getting fit should be fun and we feel very strongly about encouraging a healthy lifestyle here, so we were delighted to see her.”

Sunderland Stroller Tony Allen, who came up with the fundraising idea after running 31 marathons back-to-back in December for the hospice, said Aly had shown that tenacity and hard work pays off in the end.

“She really is an inspiration to all who know her. We’re really proud of her and we’ll be cheering her on every step of the way as she heads off to Rio,” he said.

Catrina Flynn, fundraising manager at the hospice, said: “We’re so grateful to Aly and Tony for helping to raise funds towards the hospice. I have no doubts that they’ll hit their 5,912 mile target and more and we wish Aly the best of luck in her Olympic challenge.”