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Spirit of five-year-old drives Josh Cassidy across finish line

Canadian wheelchair athlete Josh Cassidy completed the Virgin London Marathon for 5 year old Niamh Curry, who has Neuroblastoma, just six days after setting his 1.18:25 marathon world record in Boston last Monday.

Handout/Neuroblastoma Alliance UK

Josh Cassidy may not have crossed the finish line of the London Marathon first, but he did so with a flourish.

The 27-year-old from Ottawa, who set a world-record time earlier this month in the Boston Marathon men's wheelchair race, finished in eighth place Sunday in London, two minutes and 38 seconds behind David Weir, a British athlete.

As Mr. Cassidy approached the end of the race, he spun around and pulled himself backward over the finish line.

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"I was feeling strong and was just waiting for an opportunity to break but after half way, I got hit by stomach cramps, followed by a pulled back muscle; everything just went wrong, it was one of those days but I just wanted to finish," he said in a statement.

While failing to garner a gold medal – his goal for the London marathon – may have been a disappointment, there was a bigger one.

Niamh Curry, a five-year-old girl from Northampton, England who suffers from neuroblastoma, cancer of the spine and abdomen, was too ill to meet him at the finish line because of her illness.

It is the same cancer Mr. Cassidy was diagnosed with shortly after his birth.

At the age of three weeks old, he began a brutal series of treatments, including surgery and chemotherapy which saved his life.

He began playing sports as a child. In street hockey games, he was the goalie, speeding across the crease on his knees. He played quarterback in his wheelchair.

In the run-up to the London marathon, Mr. Cassidy blogged about "having a hard time recently finding motivation for training," but that frustration dissolved when he met Niamh.

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Her parents had contacted him via Twitter. Mr. Cassidy agreed to help raise funds to help her seek a special kind of treatment in Philadelphia, which is not available in the United Kingdom.

A few days before the London race, Mr. Cassidy visited Niamh at her hospital in Oxford.

"I told her parents how she will be fine, and how this will make her a stronger person, as she is learning how to overcome obstacles in the earliest stages of her life," he wrote on his blog. "I came out of the John Radcliffe Children's Hospital so pumped. I wanted to race straight away for her," Mr. Cassidy said, just before the race.

Mr. Cassidy's next race, later this month, will take place on his home turf: the Rolling Rampage on Parliament Hill.

Niamh, however, is never far from his thoughts.

"She has been through such a lot at such a young age," he said, "but she has a strong spirit and is a fighter."

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About the Author

Sonia Verma writes about foreign affairs for The Globe and Mail. Based in Toronto, she has recently covered economic change in Latin America, revolution in Egypt, and elections in Haiti. Before joining The Globe in 2009, she was based in the Middle East, reporting from across the region for The Times of London and New York Newsday. More

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