Joburg man tackles gruelling marathon of 2 800km to create awareness around mental health
What started as a drunken dare during a dark time for a Johannesburg man has turned into an attempt to shatter a Guinness World Record in a bid to raise awareness about mental health.
While Henry Cook’s inhibitions might have been lowered when he sent the application to break the global record in September last year, this was also a personal journey for him.
“I had a very difficult time last year with the lockdown and the end of a long-term relationship,” the 34-year-old told The Saturday Star this week.
“I was drinking a lot of alcohol and I was going down a bad path.”
But an intoxicated antic prompted Cook to apply to try and break the Guinness World Record for most consecutive half marathons, all in the name of mental health.
While the Sandton businessman hopes that this journey will be a healing one for him, the main purpose is to raise R6 million for The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), an organisation on the forefront of patient advocacy, education, and de-stigmatisation of mental illness in South Africa.
“When I applied it wasn’t necessarily a breaking point for me but when I received the news that my world record attempt had been accepted, it also gave me an entirely new challenge and focus during my time suffering from mental health problems.
As Cook attempts to break the global record and raise funds for a worthy cause, he will have to complete a whopping 133 consecutive half marathons over 133 days.
This covers a distance of 2 800km from Kosi Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, to Vioolsdrift, Namibia, to break the current record for men, which currently stands at 75.
Cook’s expedition is set to begin in July and is expected to end in November.
Cook explained he chose this particular route from the east to the west coast of the country after being inspired by a similar one undertaken by Canadian athlete, humanitarian, and cancer research activist Terry Fox.
Back in 1980, with one leg having been amputated due to cancer, Fox embarked on an east to west cross-Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research.
“I would say that Terry Fox’s journey was a big inspiration for me because he was massively instrumental in providing awareness around cancer and I hope to do the same with mental health.
In order to achieve this, Cook will have to undertake a gruelling 21 kilometre journey everyday, and will need someone to join him for each segment.
This is because it is a Guinness requirement for Cook to be accompanied during his entire venture as each person will serve as a witness.
“I will have a family or friend joining me on each day and I also put a call to action on my Facebook account so there will also be people who are passionate about highlighting mental health issues that I have not even met yet,” he said.
Cook might be approaching his mid-thirties and has no professional experience as an athlete but he already has started training vigorously for his upcoming world record attempt.
“From New Years Day, I stopped drinking alcohol and other things that have been disruptive in my life,” he admitted.
“I have also been consulting with a nutritionist and I do five sessions of boxing and weight training a week as well as six runs a week with the distance increasing every month.”
Cook has partnered with local crowdfunding platform BackaBuddy to create awareness about mental health and his subsequent trek through the country.
But all the funds raised will go to SADAG while he covers the entire cost of the trip, including medical fees, petrol, accommodation and meals.
“This journey is not about me or about breaking a world record record, it is about raising awareness on mental health issues.
“I know that a goal to raise R6 million is ambitious but there are so many people just like me who suffer from mental health problems and simply just live with it because they don’t have the resources to deal with it.”
Cook also wants to break the stigma around mental health issues like anxiety and depression because he witnessed first hand what a challenge it is.”
“I only became aware of my mental health issues in 2019 and the more I started to delve into my personal experiences, the more I began to understand how important mental health is, and the more I learned that it is still a very stigmatised and taboo subject.
“It took me months of therapy to work up the courage and put myself on medicine, and admit to the people I cared about the most that I suffered from anxiety.”
Apart from completing his journey in the name of mental health awareness and providing funds to those who are in desperate help, Cook is also excited about visiting this scenic part of the country and meeting new people.
“I love the South African countryside and I can’t wait to explore the little towns in this beautiful country.”
To support Cook’s campaign, visit https://www.backabuddy.co.za/mentally-aweh or donate via Snapscan vy visiting: https://pos.snapscan.io/qr/MentallyAweh