260 miles, over £160,000 raised and one very bruised toe later, it was only right that Corrie star, Ryan Thomas, became part of the team. We had a call with him following his walk, to hear what his hopes are as our ambassador and why he walked ten marathons in ten days to raise a record amount of money for CALM.
Soap fans will know Ryan for his roles in Coronation Street and Neighbours, but this Manchester lad is also passionate about speaking up about mental wellbeing.
Deciding to walk from London to Manchester for CALM, Ryan chose to start his walk during Mental Health Awareness Week, hoping to use his platform to raise money to help support people struggling. His incredible challenge has helped fund over 20,000 helpline calls and inspired many people to come forward when they’re finding things hard.
For many of us, the idea of completing one marathon is daunting enough but Ryan’s drive to walk the length of ten wasn’t just about challenging himself physically:
“I hit a wall on the second day which I didn’t expect. It was difficult for me because I was just starting out and I was willing to give up. It scared me and I felt embarrassed, but I thought that it was important to be honest and open about it, because then it might give others a chance to do the same.
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“I fought through it and it got easier as time went on. It made me reflect on the fact that if you’re going through a struggle with mental health, even when you want to give up, you have to remember you can get through it. I thought it was a physical challenge but it ended up being a very mental challenge for me.”
Ryan’s walk became a metaphor for the inevitable ups and downs we all experience as humans, but it was also the support from others that encouraged him to keep going (even when the blisters set in). He became aware of the important part friends, family and mental wellbeing charities often play in getting us through when things are tough:
“Every day I’d receive messages saying I’d inspired people to reach out and that was a massive reason to carry on. My friend Chris came with me and played a huge part in making me get up every morning and supporting me. And that’s the thing to remember - you’re not alone, there’s always somebody to pick you up when you want to give up. As much as my challenge inspired other people, they inspired me to get up every morning and carry on.”
Ryan smashed the CALM solo fundraising record, but it wasn’t just the money that snowballed, the conversation about mental wellbeing also gained momentum. Supporters gathered along the canals to cheer him on, but also to share their own stories:
“One woman had been waiting from six in the morning to tell me how she’d struggled with her mental health and that watching my challenge had helped her reevaluate things. It was amazing to have people reach out about their struggles, saying that they’d got through them. It makes me very proud that not only did we raise money and awareness, but more people spoke up.”
Despite setting off with food poisoning and a sprained ankle after a run in with a kettlebell, Ryan reached an emotional finish in his hometown, where loved ones and supporters had gathered to meet him:
“There must have been about 1,000 people at the cathedral and it was a great time to celebrate what we’d achieved, but also to celebrate the lives we may have changed. After ten days, to reach that moment in my hometown and do the last leg of the journey with all my close friends was very poignant. It was all about people coming together to get each other through.”
Ryan’s already got big plans for what he wants to accomplish with us and even has more challenges up his sleeve. Full of enthusiasm, he’s taking his new role as CALM ambassador seriously and is keen to help create a safe space for more people to talk about how they’re feeling:
“I want to bring about more honest and open conversations with men and focus on getting them to talk more, because we all have those struggles and we’re all human beings. I also want to focus on young people’s mental wellbeing, because they’re leading the way now and they’re going to be the ones that make a change for their generation.
“125 people a week die by suicide and 75% are male. I want to help change that and I think we can all play a part in this movement. If it’s not a challenge, it’s being supportive, kind and generous - the simple things we can do for another person.”
If you feel inspired by Ryan’s challenge, why not take on your very own? You can find a whole host of ideas here.
Need support? Worried about someone? CALM’s helpline and webchat are open daily 5pm-midnight. Get access here.