When Mel Edwards was told he had multiple myeloma, bone marrow cancer, his first reaction was to ask whether it would interfere with his preparations for veterans’ running events.
These included an appearance for the Scotland over-60s team in an international cross-country match against the other “home countries”.
That was in 2006 and in the 13 years after that he continued to bat aside the illness, steadfastly refusing to allow it to stop him leading as active and fulfilling a lifestyle as possible.
Mel had been a competitive runner for much of his life. He won national titles in a wide range of age groups, enjoying success on the track, road, cross country and hill racing.
In 1968 he was second reserve for the Great Britain marathon team selected for the Mexico Olympic Games.
He was also a wonderful coach and mentor, having inspired generations of north-east runners of all levels of ability to achieve their goals and fulfil their potential.
Graham Laing and myself were fortunate to represent Scotland in the marathon at the Commonwealth Games and to compete for Great Britain in a number of major championships during the 1980s.
But without Mel’s constant encouragement and wise words of wisdom, neither of us, I am sure, would have reached these levels.
He was also a successful event organiser, having established the Aberdeen marathon in 1979, a race which evolved into the BHGE 10K now enjoyed by thousands of runners every year.
Mel told me he was inspired to get involved in athletics after listening to the 1952 Olympics on the radio.
He said: “I was 10 and I remember being excited about Emil Zatopek winning three gold medals, in the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon. At school I found that I was better at running than any other sports.”
After leaving Aberdeen Grammar School, Mel moved to Aberdeen University where he studied civil engineering.
For the first couple of years, his athletics career made slow progress, but that was to change.
“I had my gall bladder removed and for some reason my running quickly improved.
“In my final year, 1964, I made a major breakthrough by winning the Scottish under-20 cross country title when I beat Ian McCafferty and Lachie Stewart.”
As a result of his national success, Mel was awarded his first international vest, representing the Scotland senior team in the international cross-country championships at Dublin where he finished 50th.
After graduating from Aberdeen, Mel set off to Cambridge to study for his MSc. Taking the advice of legendary British coach Frank Horwill, he also joined Thames Valley Harriers.
He picked up a full blue at Cambridge after finishing second in the annual grudge cross-country match against Oxford, then in 1966 he moved to Newcastle University to study for a postgraduate diploma in traffic engineering.
In 1967 Mel tackled his first marathon and got off to an amazing start by winning the Harlow race in a time of 2hr 18mins 24secs which placed him fourth in that season’s UK rankings and ninth in the Commonwealth.
Buoyed by that success, he decided to increase his training to 120 miles per week and spent some time with the British Olympic squad at the high altitude training base of Font Romeu in southern France.
His aim was Olympic selection. He added: “The trial was to be at Cwmbran, Wales, in July and I thought, because I was still inexperienced at the marathon, I’d better do another one before the trial.”
He decided to compete in the Polytechnic Marathon in London where he finished second to Japan’s Kenji Kimihara, who would later go on to win the silver medal in the Mexico Olympics.
Mel’s Olympic aspirations were dashed four weeks later when, on a hot day and over a tough course, he finished seventh in the trial.
Another Aberdeen runner, Alastair Wood, an inspirational character in the development of Mel’s running career, was sixth in 2hr 20min 29sec with Mel 40 seconds behind.
Mel said: “Looking back, I’m not sure if doing the Poly race four weeks before the trial affected me or not.
“I was disappointed because if I had been in any country other than Britain or Japan, my time would have been good enough to get to the Olympics. But Britain had such great strength in the marathon at that time.”
The following year he sustained a thigh injury which was to cost him what should have been the peak period in his career.
It would take more than three years for the problem to be resolved, but even then Mel wasn’t comfortable when running for long spells on the road or track.
But he remained typically upbeat and turned to hill running, a challenging branch of the sport in which his muscle problem didn’t appear to be such a handicap.
Successes followed as he won numerous races and titles.
He also continued to enjoy a long cross-country running career, winning a call-up to represent Scotland in a veterans international in 1988, 20 years after his previous representative appearance.
That same year Mel’s wife Kareen gave birth to their son Myles who would go on to become Scottish 1500m champion in 2015.
Mel was made an MBE for his services to sport and charity.
As his full name is Meldrum Barclay Edwards, he joked that he was now MBE squared.