Ian Young is a former soldier who is a Run Director at Blackhill parkrun in County Durham. Following an incident when he was serving in Northern Ireland, he struggled with alcohol issues, post-traumatic stress disorder and even considered taking his own life.
Ian began running as a way to improve his mental health and represented the UK in last month’s Invictus Games. He has shared his story in the hope it will inspire other Veterans who have experienced traumatic events to follow in his footsteps.
Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be in the Army. I joined when I was 16 and served in the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
During my time in the army I was involved in an incident in Northern Ireland where a female police officer died on the streets. From that moment on I felt as though things were steadily going downhill and after 11 years of service I decided to leave the Army.
I began my transition into civilian life in 2001, which was relatively smooth at first but after a while I began self-medicating with alcohol and got into some sticky situations. Sadly, I even considered taking my own life.
13 years after leaving the Army I began to google my symptoms and the search came back with the same answer every time – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I must admit I didn’t know anything about PTSD and hadn’t heard anyone mention it before, so I plucked up the courage to phone a military charity that supports Veterans who are struggling to reintegrate into normal work and family life as a result of combat-related stress and trauma.
After watching a VLOG of a Veteran I was gobsmacked at what he was experiencing and could immediately relate to it. Within six days I was in therapy and soon after I was diagnosed with PTSD, extreme depression and anxiety. I hit a bit of a barrier after the initial six sessions and had to go back for a further eight months of treatments.
PTSD had a significant negative effect on my personal life. I went in on myself and became very angry, frightened, confrontational, anxious and emotionally numb. It effected my sleep with recurrent dreams and nightmares, diet or lack of it became a real concern, and my weight plummeted. I became very irritated by it all.
Before my PTSD diagnosis I had started running as a way of keeping calm and focussed. I had always run and been active – being a solider you need to be physically fit – however this was the first time I had got into competitive running. Running is a positive healthy social activity with a real sense of purpose for those taking part, whether it’s to get fit, lose a bit weight, gain new friends or help with your mental wellbeing.
I first got involved with parkrun in 2012 and it has played a big part in my running recovery – both the running and the volunteering. After doing my first couple at Durham parkrun, I was part of the original team that set up Blackhill parkrun and I have been a Run Director there ever since. Members of my family run at Blackhill parkrun and have got into running off the back of parkrun. They have gone onto represent Blackhill Bounders in half marathons, full marathons, triathlons and cross-country races.
It’s quite amazing when I look back at all the people who have participated at Blackhill: some come every week, others every now and then, we have had international athletes take part along and also visitors from as far away as Australia. Quite a few have even been inspired to get into competitive running after their parkrun experience while for some it’s the weekly get together to run, walk, support or volunteer. It’s quite a community event and we have a great relationship with the local bowls club who provide the runners with refreshments and the odd cake every Saturday morning whatever the weather.
A friend of mine suggested I apply for this year’s Invictus Games because of my running and because it could be mentally good for me. The Games are an international multi-sport event established by HRH Prince Harry in 2014 for wounded, injured and sick armed service personnel and Veterans. I have followed it closely since its inception and attended the training camps and the trials.
The selection process is unique. It’s not about how good you are at your chosen sport, it’s about how much you have to gain from Invictus and what you can give back. ‘Invictus’ is the Latin word for unconquered and the motto of the Games is I AM – inspired by the final two lines of William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus.
“I AM the master of my fate, I AM the captain of my soul.”
I AM reflects the purpose of the Invictus Games, which is to provide a platform for personal achievement and to compete against yourself. It’s certainly something that parkrunners can relate to.
I was honoured to be one of the 90 people chosen to represent the UK at this year’s Invictus Games in Toronto, which was held last month. I am predominantly a long distance runner – the longer the better – but I love all running wether it’s on the track, road or off-road. I really enjoy the challenge of the marathon and ran sub-3 hours at this year’s Manchester Marathon. At the Invictus Games the longest distance was the 1500 metres so I took part in that and was also a member of the 4 x 100 metre relay team too.
That experience has had an enormously positive effect on me and I have taken so many good things from it, as well as making friends with some quite remarkable individuals. I have applied for next year’s Games that are being held in Australia.
As part of the Invictus Games legacy I am now engaged in some projects that will not only help me but also those in need, by using my experiences as a Veteran with a mental health condition. The objective is to increase awareness so that those in need can come forward to get the help and support they deserve to lead a better and fulfilling life. This is the legacy of the games, and this includes seeking out and finding those men and women in desperate need of help and support.
The rate of suicides within the Veteran community is a well-documented problem and has affected me personally as a result of friends who sadly took this path when it could have been avoided by inspiring those in need to get help, and maybe go on their own Invictus journey like I did.
I would like my experience to show other Veterans about the positive experiences they can gain from both running and being involved in a supportive community such as parkrun. Who knows, it might lead you all the way to the Invictus Games.