A long distance runner who was seriously injured in an alleged attack has been helped back into his running shoes by caring members of the community.
World record holder James Zarei, 70, used to run 20 miles every morning at Grimsbury Reservoir before the incident in September.
Mr Zarei, who is still mainly on a liquid diet and due for further surgery next month, set the British record for six-day ultra distance running on home soil when he completed 622 miles at the Gateshead Stadium in 1990.
PC Neil Budd, the first officer on the scene when Mr Zarei was injured, went the extra mile in his line of duty and visited the runner regularly once he was out of hospital.
So much so, that he told him he wanted to be the first person to run with him once he had the all clear to start jogging again.
On January 14 – Mr Zarei’s 70th birthday – he was given a remarkable present as PC Budd gathered about 30 police officers and friends and surprised him by the reservoir.
“Nobody could have arranged a better birthday present – it was better than winning the record!” said Mr Zarei.
“I couldn’t believe how amazingly kind everybody was.”
The group joined Mr Zarei in a gentle jog around the reservoir to support him and help reassure him that it was a safe environment.
Mr Zarei’s partner Jacqui Dunell said: “It was such a joyous morning. He was so grateful he just burst out crying. Although still traumatised by the alleged attack and with a lot of recovery still to be made, his spirits were emotionally very high and he shook hands with everyone there to thank them. This is the true community spirit of Banbury.”
Mr Zarei did not start running until he was approaching his 40s but he soon began competing in ultra-distance events.
During his running career he has twice won the 164-mile Spartathlon race in Greece, becoming the only British runner other than Patrick Macke to win the race.
In Japan he has won the 279-mile Hiroshima to Nagasaki Peace Run three times.
In August last year, Mr Zarei was invited by the organisers of an Ultra Fest event at Abingdon, the first in the UK since 1990, to officially start the race and present medals to the winners.