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Ballyclare man on his bike to boost mental health charity funds

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Mervyn Canders

Mervyn Canders

Mervyn Canders

A Ballyclare man, who has suffered mental ill-health problems in the past, is getting on his bike for a 350-mile charity cycle marathon that will take him to all 24 football grounds in the Irish Premiership and Championship.

Ballyclare Comrades fan Mervyn Canders (37) is hoping to raise thousands of pounds for Action Mental Health on his three-day trek. He will be accompanied by Eddie Turkington, who is a Liverpool supporter, and Stuart Dellow, who is secretary of Ards Football Club.

Father-of-two Mervyn, who says he slipped into "a dark place" during his bout of mental ill-health, will hit the road tomorrow morning starting off at Dixon Park, the home of Ballyclare Comrades.

Mervyn's plans to undertake his Northern Ireland-wide pedal in March were punctured by the coronavirus lockdown but now he is raring to go.

And he is hoping to raise the profile of mental health as well as much needed funds for the charity, especially targeting men along the way.

He said: "Football is a sport mainly played and supported by men but there is a stigma attached to men speaking about their mental health.

"But I'm not ashamed to admit that I have had mental health issues myself and I wasn't in a good place.

"I needed to do something about it so I went and spoke to a counsellor and just by talking to someone I didn't know helped me greatly, to get things that had been simmering underneath for so long out and off my chest."

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Stuart Dellow

Stuart Dellow

Stuart Dellow

Mervyn, who is a chef, says he hopes others will follow his lead in looking for support.

He added: "It's heartbreaking to see that people can't seem to find an alternative but by speaking out about their mental health and asking for help could potentially save their lives.

"The increase in people, especially men, ending their own lives is absolutely devastating.

"Life is precious. It's good to talk so people shouldn't be ashamed and they shouldn't bottle it all up. By just talking to one person and telling them they feel, could change everything," he says.

Mervyn, who also supports Liverpool and Northern Ireland, knows his bike-a-thon will present real challenges for him especially as he only took up cycling late last year.

He said: "The first time I went out on a road bike was really enjoyable and was great for the mind so I decided to tie the two together for the charity effort.

"But bearing in mind I'd never cycled before, up until last October, this will indeed be a big challenge, not only physically but mentally as well, but I am really looking forward to completing it."

Around 50 people have already donated over £7,200 to Mervyn's JustGiving page and he is hoping that the football clubs he visits on his bike hike will provide an assist for his goal of reaching and maybe overtaking his target of £10,000.

He added: "I hope to gather up merchandise from each of the clubs and then raffle them off to bolster my fundraising."

The gruelling cycle is due to finish at the home of Ballymena United on Tuesday.

l Anyone who wants to make a donation should contact justgiving.com/fundraising/mervyncanders

Belfast Telegraph