Just under four weeks now until I clamber onto a rowing machine at Eston Leisure Centre and attempt the equivalent on an English Channel crossing… all to try and raise mental health awareness.
This is not a fundraising event (so it’s fine to keep reading…); I am doing this to highlight the fantastic work being carried out by Time to Change, as well as the Jenny Wallwork Foundation.
The more involved I have become in sharing my experiences, and meeting others who have their own stories to tell, the more aware have become not only of the number of lives affected by mental illness, but also the quiet, courageous way in which so many people face the unrelenting daily struggle of everyday life.
Time to Change is a national organisation, with a strong profile, and they really seem to be getting across their message as they strive to reduce the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.
Jenny is a former England badminton international, who reached the pinnacle of her sport (Commonwealth medallist and mixed doubles world ranked no.5) whilst battling bulimia nervosa.
Although Jenny has now retired from international competition, you can take it from me that she is still a superb athlete; she is also an inspirational young woman, and it would be great if you could take a couple of minutes to read about her, and the organisation she established to raise awareness and understanding of any form of mental illness….
Back at Eston Leisure Centre (where, incidentally, Jenny and I had an enjoyable but very one-sided game of badminton six months ago), rowing training is starting to gather momentum in preparation for the 34km I have to complete on 23 December.
A few weeks ago, I met Julian Bunn from Tees Rowing Club, who has achieved some notable feats in the world of indoor rowing; and he has given me some excellent advice and guidance on my training schedule, nutrition, hydration as well as the mental approach to an event that will take in excess of three-and-a-half hours.
I’m currently rowing three times a week, along with some short antagonistic weight sessions, and one less intensive hour on a bike or cross-trainer. The schedule is 10km on a Wednesday, 15km on a Friday and a progressive long row on a Sunday (yesterday’s was 22km), building up to 25-26km a week before the event—I’ll be relying on adrenaline, will-power and the prospect of a few Jaffa Cakes to get through the remaining kilometres.
Both Anna Turley (my local MP) and Glen Durrant (BDO world no.1) have agreed to pop down around 12pm on the day, which is fantastic news—both have been great supporters of my challenge project, and it will be special to have them there when I finally reach the equivalent of the French coast.
BBC Radio Tees also want to be involved; and it looks like they’ll be reporting before (as in the day before), during and at the end of the event. It’s brilliant to have interest from the local media… but it also adds to the pressure that I can feel is already building.
This is really going to push me, both physically and mentally. Sitting on a rowing machine for an extended period is not easy—they certainly aren’t built for comfort. I’ll get pain in what are already badly worn hips after just 10km; and my legs will start to cramp after another 10km or so; but I’ve got to find a way to keep going….
I’m in my fifties (albeit early fifties… don’t let the photos fool you), I’m not much of an athlete, and it would be easy to quit when every stroke hurts; but there are people out there who don’t have a choice—they have to fight and can’t give in. For me that’s the link between this particular challenge and an underlying cause that is of such personal significance—and it is also the motivation.