Why I ran the London Marathon: A rescued surfer’s story

Last summer, Jonathan Davies was pulled from the waves and fighting for his life – just across the headland from where his wife Vicky was surfing in the water with their youngest son. 

Today, Jonathan shares his remarkable story of how he went from rescue to recovery, to RNLI London Marathon runner – and why Vicky became the newest volunteer crew member at St Agnes RNLI.

Jonathan Davies ran the 2021 London Marathon for the RNLI after being rescued last year. His wife Vicky, pictured beside him, is now on the crew at St Agnes

Photo: RNLI

Jonathan Davies ran the 2021 London Marathon for the RNLI after being rescued last year. His wife Vicky, pictured beside him, is now on the crew at St Agnes

A reason to run

There were perfect surfing conditions in St Agnes, Cornwall, over the May Bank Holiday weekend in 2020 – and Jonathan and his family were keen to get out on their boards. While Vicky and their 13-year-old son Alex opted for the nearby shores of Trevaunance Cove, Jonathan couldn’t resist the temptation of the bigger surf at Chapel Porth Beach.

Jonathan and his family are keen surfers and live within a close-knit surfing community in St Agnes, Cornwall

 Photo: Sarah Bunt

Jonathan and his family are keen surfers and live within a close-knit surfing community in St Agnes, Cornwall

Heading into the water, Jonathan could see several of his surfing friends taking on the 4m waves and he paddled out to join them. But then, things took a terrifying turn for the worst. 

After catching a few waves, Jonathan’s friends suddenly spotted him floating face down in the water – and he was completely unresponsive. Working together, the surfers quickly pulled Jonathan onto the shore while an onlooker called emergency services.

St Agnes RNLI launched immediately, and the lifeboat crew were on scene within minutes. The volunteers delivered vital first aid until the Coastguard rescue helicopter arrived to transfer Jonathan to hospital. 

Astonishingly, Jonathan made a full recovery – and 18 months later, he is an official finisher of the 2021 London Marathon, raising over £3,000 for the volunteers who helped save his life. 

‘It was an amazing privilege to physically do something to say thank you to the RNLI for what they’ve done for me,’ Jonathan describes. ‘It costs money for crews to launch and have the right kit and equipment, and hopefully I’ve been able to put a little bit back in the pot. You can’t beat that feeling.’

Eighteen months after his rescue, Jonathan ran the London Marathon to fundraise for the RNLI

Photo: RNLI/Laura Lewis

Eighteen months after his rescue, Jonathan ran the London Marathon to fundraise for the RNLI

‘It was the perfect thing for her to do’

Jonathan wasn’t the only one who was touched by the RNLI’s help that day. Since his rescue, Vicky has joined the lifeboat crew at St Agnes – and has already helped rescue two kayakers at sea, while the crew were out on a training session. 

Since Jonathan’s rescue, his wife Vicky has joined the lifeboat crew at St Agnes RNLI

.Photo: RNLI/Jon Knight

Since Jonathan’s rescue, his wife Vicky has joined the lifeboat crew at St Agnes RNLI

‘Vicky’s epic!’ Jonathan laughs. ‘She’s always wanted to do something to give back to the community and, after my rescue, volunteering on the crew seemed like the perfect thing to do. It’s really cool and I’m really proud of her.’

Running for recovery

‘My marathon training has helped me to process everything that happened last year,’ Jonathan reflects. ‘I’ve run over 1,500 miles this year to help get my head straight about that day – and now I feel like I can draw a line in the sand about it.

‘On Marathon Day, I wrote the date of the accident on my wrist as a reminder of what I was running for. It sweated off by mile 10, which was quite sentimental. It felt like: “That was then, and this is now. A fresh start.”’ 

Marathon Day 

‘The Marathon happened on Sunday 3 October and it was a lovely day – absolutely perfect weather for running,’ Jonathan remembers. 

‘I passed so many people who just looked great. I saw some three-legged racers, I overtook a rhino, I saw other RNLI runners … it was a joy! I saw my wife and kids at mile 11 and gave them a sweaty cuddle. I usually don’t get emotional, but I really enjoyed running over Tower Bridge. The crowds were amazing there and the noise was great.

A runner running the London Marathon for the RNLI

Photo: RNLI/Laura Lewis

‘I saw other RNLI runners, and it was a joy! The crowds were amazing and the noise was great’

‘I saw the RNLI Cheering Team at Canary Wharf which was really cool, especially as I was getting tired at that point.  And when I reached Tower Lifeboat Station, I saw my wife and kids again and I knew I was on the homestretch – that really gave me a boost. I gave it my all and really enjoyed it.

‘There was a nice moment at the end too. I was sat down and BBC News Presenter Sophie Raworth came past me and asked if I was alright. 

‘We shared our stories about why we were running, and I told her about my accident. I didn’t give her my details or ask her to sponsor me., but she loved my story – and when I looked at my fundraising link the next day, she’d found me online and donated. That was really moving.’   

My marathon advice to you 

Tempted to apply to run the marathon in 2022? Jonathan says: ‘Absolutely go for it! It’s a fabulous experience. To run for the RNLI is amazing – they’re such an important part of this country. It’s run by volunteers and completely dependent on donations with no government support.

‘It’s a really worthwhile cause that we often take for granted, like the ambulance, the coastguard or the police – we’re really lucky to have this amazing institution.’ 

 
The RNLI Cheer Team are there to celebrate you every step of the way on Marathon Day!

Photo: RNLI/Laura Lewis

The RNLI Cheer Team are there to celebrate you every step of the way on Marathon Day! 

‘Don’t be afraid of fundraising, either. People are generous and generally want to help each other – especially on the day, it’s hard not to want to dig deep for someone you know who’s running. Afterwards, I was wearing my running T-shirt and someone who I don’t know came up to me in McDonalds and gave me £10!

‘When you feel like you’re hitting a wall (like training in the dark depths of January!), running for charity is really powerful. It reminds you why you’re doing it, and why you care about it. I’ve run five marathons in total, and the one I didn’t do for charity is the one that I did the worst in because I didn’t put my heart and soul into it. 

‘You’ll get to Marathon Day with this total sum you’ve been able to give to an amazing cause – there’s nothing like it. It was a real privilege to run for the RNLI and I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t saved me.’ 

Inspired by Jonathan? Apply today to run the London Marathon 2022 for the RNLI – and you’ll be helping save more lives like his at sea. 

Got the running bug, but not quite ready for the marathon yet? Keep an eye out for the RNLI Reindeer Run – a fun and festive way to get active and support the RNLI.

Categories