Run Forest Run: An Armagh man's love for exercise helps raise cash for Samaritans after Christmas Day tragedy last year
Ahead of tomorrow's Forest Run, Dermot Winters explains to Una Brankin how his love of exercise helps a cause that is close to his heart
Each race Dermot Winters runs means a boost for the Newry branch of the Samaritans. Dermot's mother Eileen has volunteered for the charity for 30 years and continues to, despite a devastating family tragedy last year.
"My father took his own life on Christmas Day, so we're facing the first anniversary this year," say Dermot, from Meigh, near Killeavy in south Armagh.
"Last year was terrible and it's a terrible time of the year for us, but I've three children, one of them waiting on Santa, so life has to go on.
"My mother helps man the phones for the Samaritans in Newry one day a week. It is her way to give something back to them, and mine is to raise funds for them with the running. No-one who works for them is paid, from the top to the bottom. I really admire the work they do."
Four months after the tragic death of his father, Dermot (41) completed the London Marathon in an impressive 3:46:33 - an achievement beyond his wildest dreams in his truck driving days. Years of fry-ups and convenience foods at roadside cafes and filling station, had seen his weight rise to 16 stone.
Knowing his health was in danger, Dermot took a pay cut to go to work for Newry & Mourne District Council in 2006, maintaining Newry sports centre. The new job came with a gym membership in the package.
"Being so overweight, at 16 stone, it was daunting to go through the doors of the sports centre at first," Dermot admits. "I'd done no exercise for a long time, but I knew this was a good opportunity to get fit. I was lucky to have Sean Cracken - he's a local legend in road running - take me under his wing and he got me on the treadmill, although I was reluctant at the start."
Lacking in confidence initially, Dermot declined when his trainer asked him to enter a charity road race. But when Sean explained he used a handicap system in the race to give the beginners the chance to cross the line before the fast guys powered in, Dermot decided to take up the challenge.
"I didn't sleep a wink the night before, thinking about it," Dermot recalls. "But I went ahead, lined up, got out first and ended up winning. Then I got hooked - so has my daughter Eva (11). She has been running, too, since she was seven.
"Apart from the massive health benefits, I found running really helped clear my head. It is a major plus in times of stress. I get a real buzz from it and feel full of energy, and raring to go."
Now a Slieve Gullion Park attendant and caretaker, Dermot lost four stone through running and ditching junk food, although he allows himself a takeaway at weekends with the family - wife Bronagh, son Dermot (9) and daughters Eva and Moya (14).
From being an overweight, lethargic trucker, Dermot now runs 20 miles every weekend in three hours. He helped form Newry City Runners Club in 2008, holding the position of chairman for three years, before founding a new club, Slieve Gullion Runners in 2014. The club now has 105 members, including young Eva Winters, who will be running alongside Dermot in the Belfast Telegraph-sponsored Run Forest Run race at Gosford Forest Park tomorrow.
"The whole family is very supportive, cheering us on, and Eva is every bit as hooked on the sport as me," says Dermot.
"I hope I inspired her a bit, as she inspires me to keep doing it. It's really special taking part in events with our daughter alongside me, and enjoying it as much as I do."
The Belfast Telegraph has joined up with Born2Run for a series of special Forest Runs, continuing with the Gosford Forest Park 10k tomorrow. Online entry is now open.
Runners who complete six out of eight races will receive a free Run Forest Run commemorative T-shirt at the end of the series.
Please note, runners need to complete six races to qualify as a Run Forest Run Finisher, as race entry alone does not count. When entering the sixth race, either Mount Stewart, Antrim Castle Gardens or Castlewellan runners will be asked their T-shirt size. Leading up to the final race, runners are advised of the cut-off date to enter the sixth race, in order to pre-order the correct size T-shirt. The organisers anticipate this will be at the end of January, depending on T-shirt supplier.
If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, contact the Samaritans on 084 5790 9090 or Lifeline on 080 8808 8000
Run Forest Run times and places
■ GOSFORD 10K
Gosford Forest Park,
Markethill, Co Armagh
■ LOUGHGALL 10K
December 5, 11am
Loughgall Country Park,
11-14 Main Street,
Loughgall, Co Armagh
■ TOLLYMORE 10K
December 19, 10am
Tollymore Forest Park,
East District Forest Office
Newcastle, Co Down
■ KILBRONEY 10K
January 2, 2016, 11am
Kilbroney Forest Park,
Rostrevor, Co Down
■ MOUNT STEWART 10K
January 16, 2016, 11am
Newtownards, Co Down
■ ANTRIM CASTLE GARDENS 10K
February 6, 2016, 11am
Antrim Castle Gardens,
Antrim, Co Antrim
■ CASTLEWELLAN 10K
February 27, 2016, 11am
Castlewellan Forest Park,
Castlewellan, Co Down
■ Follow our race series on Facebook and Twitter