A Ballyclare man who slipped into a “dark place” during a bout of mental ill health is cycling across Northern Ireland’s football grounds to raise funds for Action Mental Health.
Mervyn Canders will set off on the sponsored challenge that will cover around 350 miles over three days and two nights, commencing at Dixon Park, home of Ballyclare Comrades.
The 37-year-old, who is being joined on the route by friends, is inviting other cyclists to join them for the event which starts on March 23.
The married father-of-two, then aims to make his way around all 24 Irish Premiership and Championship grounds, hoping to gather up merchandise from each to raffle off, to bolster the sponsorship fund.
He said: “As football is a sport mainly played and supported by men there is a stigma attached to men not speaking about their mental health.
“I have had mental health issues and have found myself in a dark place. I needed to do something about it so I went and spoke to a counsellor and just by speaking to someone who I didn’t know helped me greatly, to just get things that had been simmering underneath for so long out and off my chest.”
Mervyn played football since childhood up until recent years when work responsibilities precluded his enjoyment of the sport, so he came to cycling late, only pushing pedals on pavement in October 2019.
He continued: “The first time I went out on a road bike was really enjoyable and was great for the mind so I decided to tie the two together and I’ve come up with this challenge.
“Bearing in mind I have never cycled before, up until a few months ago, this will indeed be a big challenge, not only physically but mentally as well, but one I’m really looking forward to completing.”
He added: “I’ve suffered from mental health and I’m not ashamed to admit that. I wasn’t in a good place and I took the first step and spoke to someone and from that day everything changed for me.
“It’s heart-breaking to see people can’t seem to find an alternative, and that speaking out about their mental health and asking for help could potentially save their lives. The increase in especially males ending their own lives is absolutely devastating!
“Life is precious. It’s good to talk so don’t be ashamed and don’t bottle it up. By just talking to one person and telling them how you feel, it could potentially change everything.”
If you would like to make a donation for the charity effort, go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mervyncanders
Anyone wishing to join the cycle should contact Mervyn via Facebook.