After losing her younger brother, Freddie, in 2019, Ella took on an epic challenge in his memory – running from London to Bristol to raise money for CALM. We shared a call to hear the ups and downs of the run, why Ella’s speaking up about her family’s loss, and how she raised enough to help fund over 4,000 CALM helpline calls.
Ella is determined to speak openly about her brother’s suicide. Although it’s tough, she believes that talking about suicide and mental health will help more people find support when they’re struggling.
As a family, they’ve been through a lot. Alongside losing Freddie, Ella’s older brother has also struggled with his emotional health. That’s why Ella is determined to stand up and challenge the stigma around mental health.
“We’ve experienced suicide in every form as a family and if I can’t talk about it, then people aren’t going to feel they can talk to me about it. That’s why I feel so passionate about raising money and being open about what my family has been through. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just very real.”
Ella decided to run the whopping 157 miles from London to Bristol along the canals to help CALM’s helpline be there for anyone who needs it. London and Bristol were her locations of choice because of their significance in her and her brother’s relationship.
“We grew up in Bristol and I wanted to end up there because there’s a mural for Fred on one of the big rocks by the river. In his last couple of years, Fred spent a lot of time crashing on my sofa while I lived in London and we spent a lot of time together there. They’re two places that reminded me of him most, so I thought why not try and run from one to the other?
“CALM offers help for people in their hour of need. They supply support avenues and opportunities for people to talk. You do a wonderful job of keeping suicide at the forefront of the media and you’re a presence that people respect. CALM also supports families who’ve been bereaved by suicide, which is really important. I think the work you do is fabulous and I wanted to get involved.”
Word of Ella’s run spread fast, and she quickly knocked her target of raising £5,000 out of the park, bringing in over £35,000 to support our life-saving services. She was blown away by the donations, and realised that suicide and mental wellbeing affect more people than you might first think.
“I was so surprised by the amount we raised. As the month rolled on, people were just so generous. During the week of the run there were lots of people posting about it on social media, the word spread and the money just came flooding in. I think it was something that, sadly, people can relate to. I had strangers messaging me saying thank you and that they'd donated. It definitely helped in terms of spirit.”
But how do you prepare to run the equivalent of a marathon a day for six days? As you’d imagine, readying yourself to cover that many miles takes a pretty intense training regime. But no amount of coaching could prepare Ella for how mentally and physically tough the challenge was:
“I spent all year training really hard with a coach and my support network helped me mentally prepare. My mum was my support vehicle for the week of the challenge. It started off amazingly and it was really fun to start with. Lots of my mates came down to see me off and a couple ran with me. It was pretty beautiful running along the canals but the reality of things started to creep in.
“There are things you can’t train for, like blisters and kit malfunctions. I got awful blisters on day two which meant that my running technique changed. Because I was overcompensating to not tread on my blisters, I really hurt my ankle, so the end of day three and four was pretty bleak. I ended up in hospital having X-rays.”
A hospital trip and a tearful video later, Ella announced she’d been given the go ahead to cycle the last day. With her family, friends and locals cheering her on, she made it to the finish line despite her injury.
“Lots of people were waiting to support me and after a rubbish couple of days, I ended on a massive high. My dad had set up a balloon arch at the finish line and my big brother met me. We had a huge hug and said hello to Fred at his rock. My little brother was known for wearing a beanie hat, so I carried it around in my backpack the whole run. I was clutching onto it as I crossed the line and just burst into tears. I felt weirdly close to Fred throughout the whole thing, because I had a lot of time to think about him while I was running.”
Ella’s efforts were extraordinary, but she isn’t done yet. While she’s not planning on tackling another six marathons any time soon, she’s continuing the conversation on mental wellbeing in a bid to normalise talking about our feelings when things are tough.
“Suicide has had an absolutely devastating effect on my family and I hate to think of other people going through the same thing, so with what little voice I have, I want to speak about it. I think the conversation needs to be so much more open and people need to not be afraid of asking the harder questions if they think somebody is upset or going through a tough time.
“Be direct and don’t shy away from mental health and suicide just because it’s stigmatised. The more people talk, the more people realise that so many people have experienced bad mental health at some stage in their life. People need to see mental illness as equal to physical illness.”
If you’ve been touched by Ella’s story, you can hear more from people doing extraordinary things in the movement against suicide here. And if you need to chat, CALM’s here 365 days of the year. The helpline and webchat is free, confidential and open everyday from 12pm until midnight – there’s nothing you can’t talk to CALM about.
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