“It’s nice to be by myself and have my thoughts of Nathan”
When David Missen, 47, got up for work on 19 August 2010, he noticed his 18-year- old son’s bed was empty. There was nothing too unusual about it as Nathan had been to visit his girlfriend, Kirsty, who lived in nearby Wisbech, and often he stayed over.
“Nathan worked shifts,” says David, a swimming pool maintenance engineer who lives in Over, Cambridgeshire. “He often drove over to see his girlfriend, but he usually slept at home. I told my wife, Tracy, about it and left to go to work.”
Tracy made a few phone calls to see if Nathan had stayed at his girlfriend’s, or with his aunt, who also lived in the area, but no one had seen him.
David picked up his van from work and turned the radio on.
“I heard there’d been an accident about four miles from our house, and something in my head said it wasn’t right,” explains David. “Something inside me said I had to go there and see it. I drove straight there and went right to where the police signs were.”
When David arrived, he could see a car had hit a tree and had catapulted into the hedge. Heartbreakingly, despite it being 60 per cent burned, he recognised the car straight away as Nathan’s gold Vauxhall Corsa.
“I knew the car as soon as I saw it,” recalls David. “I walked up to the recovery guy who was getting the car on the ramp of the recovery truck and asked if the person driving the car was OK. He asked who I was and I said: ‘I’m the father’.”
David was ushered over to the police, who explained they hadn’t been able to work out who the victim was because he’d been so badly burned. David, however, had no doubt. “I thought: Oh my God, here we go,” he remembers. His brother-inlaw, Dolph, picked him up from the scene of the accident and took him home to break the tragic news to Tracy and his other son, Danny, now 26.
David learned his son had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car, which had then hit a tree and exploded.
In the hours and days that followed, David had to do what no parent ever wants to: formally identify his son and set about arranging the funeral.
It was a couple of months after the accident that David took up running.
Before Nathan’s death he’d been a Sunday morning cyclist, but now he was looking for a bigger escape from his grief.
He explains: “I’ll go for a run on my own if I’m feeling low. Then I can come back as a different person, more relaxed. I found it a way of easing the sadness and pain I was feeling.”
David entered a half marathon in December 2010 and, spurred on by his boss, Dan, who is a keen triathlete, he joined Cambridge Triathlon Club the following month.
David went on to race Newmarket duathlon later in the year and then won a place at the London Marathon in 2012, which he completed in just over five hours.
“I raised £6000 for Andy’s Ark, which is a charity that helps children getting into work,” says David. “Nathan had dyspraxia and he used to go to Andy’s garage once a week straight from school to do work experience. I wanted to put something back into that because he’d helped Nathan so much.”
It was after that that David’s focus on triathlon sharpened.
“Dan and I spoke about it and we decided to book Grafman – a half distance triathlon, but I had a long way to go. I could cycle and run and I thought I could swim,” explains David. “But the first time I got into the pool, I did a length and felt exhausted. Dan just looked at me and said, ‘we’ll have to teach you to swim’.”
David trained hard and lined up at Grafman 2012, however, the weeks before the race, he’d been knocked out with a sickness bug.
“I got the swim out of the way. I then got on the bike, but had to pull out after 10 miles. I’d been ill a week leading up to it with a sickness bug, I was really bad on the bike and had to keep rushing to the toilet. I went to the doctor the next day and he told me I had a really bad viral infection. I was so disappointed.”
Dan suggested that as David had done the training, they do a local Olympic distance triathlon in Cambridge in May. David completed it in 1:53:56.
“I felt proud that I’d actually done it, that I could achieve something like that,” remembers David. He then went on to enter Grafman the following year, and finished in a time of just over seven hours. In 2014, he completed it in just under seven hours and he completed his third Grafman in 6hrs 40mins. In 2016, David finished
Nathan’s death left an indelible mark on David’s life, leading him to triathlon