A retired firefighter has kayaked 800 miles at sea to raise money for us, after seeing the support we’ve offered several of his colleagues.
Colin Wood, 57, who left his job as a firefighter with Avon Fire and Rescue Service earlier this year, wanted to spread an important message during the huge challenge – encouraging people who may be struggling with their mental health to reach out for help early, having suffered himself in the past.
Throughout the kayak, Colin shared moving blog posts with his supporters, revealing his own mental health journey and how the challenges he faced at sea mirrored those that many people may face day-to-day.
He said beforehand: “If you are experiencing problems with your mental health, you will empathise with the journey. It may give you the courage to find the help that you may need.
“I am trying to reach someone who finds getting through the day hard. To keep going, find some help and start their healing.
“When I was at a low point, I didn’t need a famous movie star going on about what positivity could do. What helped me was talking to someone who had been in my position. I am returning the favour.”
Colin first thought of doing the challenge following a harrowing lorry crash incident he attended as a firefighter in 2015. He says the impact it had on him wasn’t obvious until the day after, and he struggled to find the help he needed at the time.
“I thought I was resilient and immune. I thought I was mentally bulletproof, but everyone has a limit,” he says.
“I felt we needed more welfare support at the time… but thankfully that’s got a lot better now.”
Colin says his determination to spread the message about reaching out for support was only heightened when two of his colleagues sadly took their own lives.
“I wanted to share my experience but also help people understand that it is a journey. I wanted something that was a long trip, where you have to overcome obstacles and where you receive help from people when you least expect it.”
While he hasn’t received support from us himself, Colin knows just how vital it has been for several of his colleagues – so he wanted to raise funds for us to remind people we’re there for them, for life.
“I’ve known a lot of people that have been helped by The Fire Fighters Charity over the years, whether with injuries or I had a colleague a lot younger than me that had a stroke,” says Colin.
“Then there’s the mental health side too. It’s about knowing you’re there – I always knew you were there to offer me support.
“I just ignored the fact I was struggling and let it build up for years. The longer you go without talking to people, the worse your problem can be.
“The earlier you reach out for support, the less of a problem you face I think. The sooner you speak to people, the more you disarm it all and the easier it is.”
Colin, who began the challenge in May, ended up completing 800 miles. He chose to end the journey a few days early, in Scotland, as he faced increasingly difficult conditions.
“I thought back to some of the people that I have met over the years who have also experienced negative mental health,” he explains. “I felt like them, I had to find and believe in alternatives, I needed to change my environment and remove the conditions causing problems. If that meant not getting to the summit, then so be it.”
Colin has raised an incredible £4,750 so far, which is still rising, and that will be split between us, Whale and Dolphin Conservation and the Ukraine appeal.
To donate and read some of his blog posts, click here.