An Ardstraw 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, now living in Ballyclare, will set off on the sponsored challenge that will cover approximately 350 miles over three days and two nights, commencing at Dixon Park, the home of Ballyclare Comrades FC.
The 37- year-old, who is being accompanied on the route by a number of friends, is also inviting other cyclists and cycling clubs to join them for the event which 'wheels off' on March 23.
The married father-of-two, then aims to make his way around all 24 Irish premiership and championship clubs grounds in Northern Ireland, hoping to gather up merchandise from each to raffle off, to bolster the sponsorship fund.
“As football is a sport mainly played and supported by men both young and old, there is a stigma attached to men not speaking about their mental health,” he explained.
“I, myself 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,” the former Castlederg High School pupil said.
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.
“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,” he added.
“Bearing in mind I have never cycled before, up until a few months ago, last October, this will indeed be a big challenge, not only physically but mentally as well, but one I am really looking forward to completing.”
Mervyn said many people have asked him why he has chosen the arduous challenge.
“I have previously suffered from mental health and I am 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,” he told them.
“It is heart-breaking to see that 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 all up. By just talking to one person and telling them how you feel, it could potentially change everything,” he concluded.
Mervyn has set up a Justgiving page https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/
mervyncanders and a number of local businesses have already signalled their support for his fundraising effort.
Anyone wishing to join the cycle should contact Mervyn on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mervyn.canders