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.
It was good to hear the supporters of Leeds United and Newcastle United join together yesterday for a wonderfully observed minute (or two) of applause and singing to commemorate the life and career of Gary Speed, who passed away five years ago (on 27 November).
He had served both clubs with distinction and it was an enormous shock when the then Wales manager took his own life at the ridiculously young age of 42.
I didn’t know Gary Speed at all, but I still owe him a huge debt of gratitude because the remarkable bravery he showed—both in life and in death—gave me the strength to write openly about some of the struggles I was having around that time, and to reveal that I had suffered from a form of depression for many years.
It was a massive step, but the potential shame and guaranteed embarrassment paled in comparison to the importance of the whole subject of mental health—and the grief felt by family and friends at the loss of a loved one in such tragic circumstances.
I’m not sure it would be right to suggest that blog “changed my life”, but I can say for certain that it made a positive difference to my direction or purpose. I was (and am) incredibly lucky to share my life with Elaine and with her constant love and support, I have spent the past three years doing whatever I can to try and raise awareness and understanding of forms of illness that are often unseen, but potentially so devastating.
The series of challenges that I will continue to undertake has enabled me to tell my story candidly and honestly, to show that it is fine to talk; and just what can be achieved by having the strength to ask for help. I have learned a great deal about myself and my own condition (dysthymia), but along the way I have also been fortunate… actually I’ve been privileged to meet some wonderful and truly inspiring people, whose support has been both humbling and hugely appreciated.
The challenges, the blogs, the talks… these are just my ways of attempting to make just a small difference. Whether I have or ever will I honestly don’t know, but I promise I will keep trying. For now, I just wanted to respectfully dedicate this short article to the memory of Gary Speed; a man who definitely made a difference. Rest peacefully Gary.
Yesterday, I made the relatively short journey down to Garforth for an event that the poster called “Smash It”; a day where some of the best badminton talent in the country would gather in West Yorkshire to support the Jenny Wallwork Foundation to help raise awareness and understanding of mental health issues.
The day was organised by Jenny Wallwork (you may have guessed that bit), a former England international and Commonwealth Games medallist (in Delhi in 2010). Jenny is a genuinely inspiring young woman and if you don’t know her personal story, I would certainly recommend that you click on the link and visit her Foundation’s website….
Jenny and I had met earlier in the year for a few games of badminton as part of my ongoing challenges on behalf of Time to Change—well I say “games”, but “lessons” might be more appropriate!—and a couple of months later I was delighted to be able to donate half of the funds raised from my 12-hour darts marathon to support Jenny’s work.
The facilities at Garforth are excellent, and I was particularly relieved to arrive in one piece after my windscreen wiper blade had snapped off mid-wipe the previous morning and I was pretty nervous about a repeat performance as I trundled down a decidedly damp M1.
Thankfully all was well; it was good to see Jenny again; I was introduced to her parents, Brian and Jill, before having a long and hugely enjoyable chat with Adam Whitehead, Olympic swimmer (and the 2002 Commonwealth 100m breaststroke gold medallist), now seemingly carving out a successful career as a DJ.
Well he was in charge of the music yesterday….
There was loads going on. Four badminton courts were in constant use; there was a raffle, a quiz, and plenty of activities for the kids. My semi-athletic contribution to proceedings was to take part in three games of doubles. That the first two resulted in victories was solely down to my respective partners, Kate Robertshaw and Sarah Milne; but it was a pleasure to be able to share a court with such fantastic players.
The second game in particular (against Alex Langley and Nick Coulson) was both close and, for this member of the quartet, exhausting; and I’m using fatigue and aching hips as excuses for my final outing (alongside Jenny) having been accepted as my entry for the mannequin challenge.
I really hope the event raised a sizeable sum for the Jenny Wallwork Foundation. It must have taken so much work to organise the day, but it was good to see so many people in attendance; and everyone looked like they were having a great time. By half past one however, it was time for me to hobble back to my car and see if the windscreen wiper was still attached… and still working.
It was… which is certainly more than I can say for my hips this afternoon!