My desire to keep undertaking various challenges to raise awareness of mental health issues remains every bit as strong (if not stronger) today as it did back in January 2014 when this whole “adventure” began.
It is believed that at some point in their life one in four of us will suffer from some kind of mental health problem. By definition those problems—and their effects or consequences—will vary enormously; but I wonder how many of the people who are suffering do so in silence. There are numerous reasons why people don’t or won’t talk, even when pressures become overwhelming, but somehow finding the strength to take that first step can lead to positive changes that would have previously seemed impossible such is the consuming power of the mind.
The fact that I have told my own story and shared my experiences doesn’t make me brave… just incredibly lucky that I have people in my life who believe in me, and give me the strength to get through each day. Over the past two-and-a-bit years I have met some very special people who have shown remarkable and humbling courage in confronting (and often overcoming) their own issues—I met one such young woman yesterday.
As a successful international badminton player Jenny Wallwork won Commonwealth silver and bronze medals and at one stage was ranked fifth in the world along with her mixed doubles partner Nathan Robertson. Yet during her professional career, she fought a secret battle against bulimia—a truly horrible condition.
Finally opening up to her parents must have been one of the hardest moments of her life, but it was very probably the start of a new chapter that has seen Jenny set up her own charity—the Jenny Wallwork Foundation—as well as becoming an Athlete Mentor for the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, and doing some amazing and inspiring work with young people right across the country.
I met Jenny at Eston Leisure Centre yesterday, along with James Kirton, a fellow Athlete Mentor and a swimmer of great distinction who represented Team GB at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Let’s be honest it wasn’t hard to spot the “odd one out”!
Jenny had agreed to play me at badminton to complete challenge no.65 (that of taking on an international athlete at their chosen sport), but as well as that we were able to have a chat about my upcoming darts marathon, which is being held on May 14 to raise funds for Jenny’s charity, as well as Grangetown Netball Club. I was more than happy to support Jenny’s work even though we’d never met, but having spent a short time in her company, I actually feel privileged to be able to make this small contribution.
After being told to give up competitive sport in 2005 following confirmation of the degenerative condition femoro-acetabular impingement (it means my hips hurt), I hadn’t picked up a badminton racket in anger for ten years until last September when I travelled down to Milton Keynes to take on England’s Rhys Walker… although “take on” should really read “get hammered by…”. Any concerns I might have had about testing my worn joints against Jenny were compounded by James’ revelation that he’d challenged Jenny to a game and been on the wrong end of a 21-0 defeat, so it was with some serious trepidation that I lumbered onto the court….
Coincidentally, Grangetown Netball club’s head coach Gel Williams happened to be at the leisure centre and she stayed to watch the warm-up, which consisted mainly of me bending down to pick up shuttlecocks after swishing at thin air. When the serious stuff got underway—well it was serious on my side of the net; I’m not sure Jenny even broke sweat! —I have to say I was really pleased with how I played.
At the end of the first game (which I lost 21-13) Jenny commented that my height was a definite advantage… something that I felt was more than cancelled out by my age and lack of mobility; my reactions were still reasonably good and I’d played one or two pretty decent shots along the way. Kind words, which I didn’t fully appreciate at the time because I was on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion. I sneaked into double figures in the second game and lost the third 21-14, but loved every minute.
Jenny made sure that I worked really hard and much as she didn’t need to get out of first gear during our hour together, it was obvious that she is a superb athlete—her movement around the court was incredible. As you’d expect, she has every shot in the proverbial book, including a backhand that can reach the back of the court with ease and a smash that even at half speed was hard enough to see, let alone try and return.
The smile that was on Jenny’s face when James took a couple of photos of us afterwards had been there right throughout our games. It seemed like she’d enjoyed her afternoon… I hope so; I definitely did.
It was an absolute pleasure to meet Jenny, and James as well—two people who have achieved so much in their chosen sport, and are prepared to give so much back. I’m sure Jenny and I will cross paths again in the not too distant future, but in the meantime and with the weekend looming, please click the button below go to my darts marathon page… where you can follow a link to Jenny’s charity site.
Obviously it would be fantastic if you wanted to make a donation towards my darts marathon fundraising by visiting my JustGiving page, but please do take the time to read about Jenny’s life and career in a bit more detail: she is a charming and inspiring young woman.
And, as I found out yesterday, a bloody good badminton player!