Phil Angus talks about his motivation for undertaking the gruelling Isle of Wight challenge in support of Mental Health Research UK
In 2019 my family sadly lost an amazing man, Steve Cane, after he’d suffered a long battle with mental health issues for over 30 years which sadly led to him taking his own life. Steve genuinely had a heart of gold and was a very special man. He was an amazing uncle to my wife Katie, son Rhys, and brother-in-law Lee, and a fantastic brother to his siblings Sharon and Chris. Steve’s quality of life suffered as he wasn’t able to socialise and saw nobody apart from his family and support workers. It seemed as if no-one was able to help him, despite being under mental health services for many years. He was given different diagnoses and tried various psychiatric drugs, but nothing seemed to help him, so he would self-medicate with alcohol to ease his troubled mind. He was very talented and always had time to listen to his siblings if they were ever upset. He would have made an excellent counsellor, but it wasn’t to be.
Mental health issues cause invisible wounds which everyone is susceptible to at any time. After seeing the impact that his mental health troubles had had on Steve and the rest of the family, I thought it was only right for me to do something to raise awareness about the need for a better understanding of mental health. I decided to take part in the Isle of Wight Challenge and raise some funds to support the fantastic charity Mental Health Research UK in the process. The event was originally meant to happen in May 2020, but unfortunately it got postponed until this year due to the pandemic.
The challenge would see me run and walk the 107 km circumference of the Isle of Wight. Since I’m an RAF Sergeant, I wanted to put a bit of a military spin on it to make it more challenging and meaningful by adding an extra burden, which would test my speed, mental robustness and physical endurance. So to make it more challenging, I decided to do the walk carrying a 40lb Bergen (military backpack) and set myself a time limit of under 24 hours moving time!
The event started at 07:45 on a wet Saturday 10th July 2021, and brought lots of challenges along the way, including a sprained left ankle at the 65 km mark and severe blisters on both feet, to mention but a few! However, the biggest challenge by far was the mental aspect of just keeping motivated and moving forward; something I knew would be difficult prior to the event. In fact, this hardship I felt was very fitting with regard to my reasons for doing my challenge - raising awareness about the importance of mental health. Camera in hand, my uncle-in-law Chris recorded me along the way, and it was always great to see him. The best boost for me was when Katie and Rhys suddenly appeared unexpectedly at the 50km stage! (Here’s Chris’s video compilation of the highlights - you can check this out at 9 mins and 45 seconds into the video.
Video credit: Chris Cane
My wife had fibbed to me that unfortunately she was busy that day and so couldn’t come to support me. I can’t describe how wonderful it was to see them both when I was really feeling physically and mentally exhausted. The next part of the walk I had a real spring in my step!
Given the distance and the time it takes to do the Isle of Wight 107 km challenge, you might be wondering if I slept for a few hours, and maybe pitched a tent. The answer is no! It was definitely tough walking right through the night in the dark with my heavy pack, not to mention having to deal with the cold! It was pretty lonely too. But I kept my eye on my goal, and it’s amazing what the body can achieve when you’re determined enough. I finally completed the event at 11:18 on Sunday the 11th July. Although I had an overall time of 27 hours 33 minutes, I actually had a moving time of 23 hours 23 minutes, which I was thrilled with!
I have been truly overwhelmed by the support I’ve received from family and friends during the build-up to and throughout the event itself. I can confidently say I wouldn't have been able to do it without each and every one of them, and I'm forever grateful! Their support allowed me to raise over £2,750 for this amazing charity and possibly more, with pledges still coming in. Importantly, I’ve raised awareness about mental health to thousands of people and I hope I’ve helped to highlight that you should never suffer in silence and to give them hope - there is always someone to talk to. We might not be able to do anything about our past, but we can certainly do something about our future, and Mental Health Research UK funds research and scholarships to make sure there’s more understanding of this highly complex health area.
If anyone would like to donate or read a bit more in-depth about my reasoning for taking this challenge on, please visit my Just Giving link below.