Tony ‘the fridge’ Phoenix-Morrison got his name from his unique way of running marathons – with a fridge strapped to his back. Yes, a real refrigerator. Why on earth would anyone want to do that, you ask? Well, for Tony, this is a way to gain people’s attention so he can raise money for charity.
“My friends knew I was an ultra-runner, so trying to raise money by just running the Great North Run wasn’t getting me anywhere,” said the 49-year-old marketing manager from South Tyneside, in the UK. “So I thought about something different. I wanted an extreme challenge, something that would push me to my limits. In 2011, I told everyone I was running with a fridge and the world went mad for it! I ended up on the news in 17 different countries over night.”
Contrary to expectations, Tony isn’t really trying to show off his strength by running with the 42 kg Smeg Fridge. “I hate the fridge,” he insisted. “It starts off tough, then gets impossible. I don’t put it on for show. I should never have ran with the fridge because I was injured when I began. I went running with kettle bells in a rucksack and it swung everywhere, damaging my lower back.” According to Tony, there is no other way to prepare for the physically grueling marathon than by being mentally strong.
The story of how Tony got into running in the first place is an emotional one. It all started when he was just 12 years old, and his dad had died. He used to hide under his bed at the time and escape into a secret world, but when his brother found him out, the secret was lost. The next time he felt like escaping the stresses of reality, he just ran. “I stood up from my chair in school and the teachers were begging, ‘don’t run Tony, please.’ They thought once I started I wouldn’t stop. I was like Forrest Gump. I was running away from my problems. It was an escape for me at the time, a medicine to my problems.”
On his Facebook page, Tony describes himself as an ‘Extreme Endurance Athlete and Ultra Runner’. He also wrote about his reason for his fridge challenge: “I am a charity fund raiser for the Bobby Robson Foundation. Using the extreme feats of physical endurance I want to raise awareness and raise money to aid in the battle against cancer.” Tony himself has lost loved ones to cancer, so he said that the cause is very close to his heart. If it could make a difference, he wouldn’t mind carrying the fridge to the four corners of the earth to promote this cause.
The concept of ‘Tony the Fridge’ started in September 2011, when he was the first man to complete the Great North Run in under three hours carrying a fridge on his back. During that first run, nothing really went in his favor. “By the 11th mile both of my calves had gone and I was in a bad state,” he said. “Just completing it was a great relief. I wanted to use the fridge to get people’s attention and think about what cancer is like, carrying this heavy load every day. I couldn’t give myself cancer for charity, but I could give myself a burden like this, experiencing pure toil and struggle.”
Then, in May 2012, he successfully completed the Marathon of the North, with the fridge to keep him company. One of his most epic challenges was the ’30 Great North Runs in 30 days’. It consisted of 29 days spent in the run up to the Great North Run and the 30th day was actual Great North Run. It was during this challenge that he raised a huge sum of money towards cancer research. In the past three years, Tony has completed about 10 marathon challenges with the fridge. He took part in his last challenge – the 24 hour marathon – running four 42 kilometer marathons in a single day. With the fridge, of course.
Unfortunately, Tony was forced to abandon his mission just after completing the second marathon. “I was hit by a sunstroke – it was a very hot day – but I’m trying to raise awareness for people who have been struck down with a sudden illness so maybe it was ironic,” he said. “I still have no feeling in six of my toes. The doctors said if I’d ran another five miles I would have broke both my feet because of the weight of the fridge.” He also said that this would probably be his last challenge with the fridge, since he did not want to take attention away from other fundraisers.