The winner of the 2009 Shetland Times/Shetland Recreational Trust fit club will set off tomorrow to walk around almost the entire coastline of Shetland to raise funds for the mental health charity Mind Your Head and combat the depression he wants it known publicly that he suffers from.
Terry Williamson, 50, transformed his health and lost several stones in weight after embarking on an exercise regime and making changes to his lifestyle last year under the direction of fitness advisers at Clickimin Leisure Centre.
He was named the winner of the annual competition and received a year’s platinum membership for Clickimin at the sports awards hosted by the paper and SRT in November last year.
However he has been signed off work since then with a condition that most men of his generation would find difficult to acknowledge, never mind talk openly about.
Yet over the winter Terry has been hatching a plan to “do something positive” both for Mind Your Head and to help him return to his job.
He will set off from Sumburgh Head at 10.30am to walk an estimated 850-900 miles around the coastline of Mainland Shetland and all the permanently inhabited islands. He is happy for folk to join him on the different stages and has set up a website, www.twilliamson.co.uk, to mark his progress. He is not sure how long it will take – he will be returning home after each day rather than camping out – but hopes to complete the “walk, not a route march” within a few months.
In an interview with The Shetland Times, Terry spoke in a matter-of-fact manner about his depression.
“I have a problem with depression that comes to me in bursts. This is the third time it has affected me in my job. I was aware that it was starting again in the middle of the [fit club] programme. At that point in time it was the exercise which was keeping me going. I got signed off from my work at the end of November.
“Every time before it started I had it down to over-work – too much to do, too little time. This time I realised it’s not getting any better. This time I got fed up with folk when they ask why I am not at my work and I try to explain and they cannot look you in the eye. It’s not their fault, it’s just the way some react to it.
“I made a conscious decision I’d just tell them straight. It has been like lifting two concrete blocks from my shoulders. I feel so much better.”
He said he had been supported fully by his family in his decision to speak out and undertake the long walk. “At one time I felt guilty in being seen here [at Clickimin]. There’s a bit of a view in Shetland that says if you are not at work you should be in bed. I thought long and hard about this one. I spoke to my family – they are all supportive of it.”
He said he had been surprised by the positive reaction but believed it was down to being open and honest. “To date I’ve had no comments at all, only folk saying yes, I understand that.”
He is at pains to point out that he is not a crusader and although he will be pleased if, by setting an example, someone in similar circumstances feels compelled to ask for help, he is really doing this so he can get back to work.
“I feel I wanted to do something positive. This is my contribution to getting most from the exercise and getting back to work again.”
One of his original goals in fit club was to be able to be able to do the Spiggie Run for Mind Your Head, a target which kept him motivated. The decision to raise money for this particular cause was, therefore, a straightforward one.
Tomorrow he is hoping to get as far as the west end of the Quendale sands, a distance of eight or nine miles. He is deliberately keeping the distance relatively short because he is taking part in the Relay for Life tomorrow night.
Terry will be using a hand-held GPS device to measure the distance he walks, the time taken and his average speed. He will also have a mobile phone, a VHF radio and an emergency beacon that can be set off to alert the coastguard should he get into difficulty.
“Neville Davis and John Webster of the coastguard have provided a lot of advice on safety, most of which I have taken. They have been very supportive because I have done a lot of planning. I’m very safety conscious, I have to be because of the remoteness of much of the walk.”
Terry, who is an engineer, is originally from Whalsay but left the island when he was 16 and has lived at the south end ever since. Prior to being chosen to take part in fit club, he had been treated for high blood pressure, something his exercise regime has extinguished the need for. By his own admission he was “dreadfully unfit”.
So winning the award was a “big surprise”. “It was a fantastic experience. I would recommend it to anybody. If I can do it, anybody can.
“When I came in the first time I could not run at all but the fit club pushed me and before long I could jog for three miles without stopping. That amazed me.”
The incentive to keep going mentally came from the Clickimin staff. “They made a real effort to get to know you – it was the same for everybody. I thought that was great.” The encouragement was “gentle”, not in your face.
Shona Manson of Mind Your Head said:”Mind Your Head are honoured and delighted that Terry has decided to donate the money he raises on his walk around the coast of Shetland to our charity.
“This comes at a time when we are seeking to secure funding from mainland based charitable bodies to enable us to employ a co-ordinator which will enable us to take an even more active role in raising awareness and reduce the stigma of mental health in Shetland.
“I have great respect for Terry and consider it to be very brave to speak openly about his own experiences of mental health and hope that this will help people in our community to become less fearful of the subject and realise that mental health is everyone’s business.
“We can all have an impact on each other’s mental health and wellbeing by listening, accepting and being open. We also know that physical exercise can have a major impact on our mental wellbeing and we can encourage each other in that.
“I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of Mind Your Head to thank Terry and to wish him all the best in this challenge. It would be great to see people from around Shetland joining and supporting Terry for parts of his walk as he goes around Shetland.”
Those who want to donate should visit Terry’s website or go direct to www.justgiving.com/Terry-Williamson