In September 2023, Gary Evans undertook the enormous mental and physical challenge of walking up, and down, Ben Nevis whilst wearing a 15kg weight vest. His motivation was to raise awareness of the issue of mental health in the construction industry and to raise money for Mates in Mind.
Whilst Gary was talking about his experience he openly and honestly talked about his own mental health challenges in the past and the fact that he still needs to manage it today. “I’ve experienced mental ill-health. I went through a very difficult period of my life in 2019 when I had a lot of issues going on in my life and I had to take three months off work. So anyone who does suffer with mental health, I can relate”.
In addition, as a supervisor working in construction he also sees first-hand the stigma that surrounds talking about mental health. “Some people frame it as a vulnerability, whereas it should be framed as a strength, that it is ok to freely talk about it so that it is no longer seen as negative. I think it's through being an ambassador, a role model, that people go ‘actually it is OK to talk about this’ and they see good examples of the benefits of talking about it”.
As a result, he came up with the idea of the weighted vest which provided a physical representation of the weight we carry around in our minds, and climbing the mountain represented the uphill struggles we can experience in our daily lives.
Gary did not walk alone, he was supported by his brother and a couple of friends who embodied the message that it is ok to reach out for help. Gary reflects that without them the challenge would have been a lot more difficult. At 2.5 hours into the challenge he ‘hit a wall’, with cramping in his thighs, and pain in his lower back, it was the realisation that they were all in it together, the mutual encouragement and support of his friends, that got them all through it. For Gary, it was also his own internal motivation that kept him going, “I think everyone who's been through, and really suffered with, mental ill-health builds resilience within them,” and Gary drew on that on the mountain.
During the climb to the top the physical strain had been on his thighs whilst the mental strain was on whether he would achieve his goal and how much further there was to go. When they got to the top they only had ten minutes respite, time to take a few pictures and then they had to come back down. As Gary descended with the weight still on his back the physical strain shifted to his hamstrings and calves, as well as the back of his thighs. However, mentally it was easier as each agonising step, with blisters forming on his feet, got him closer to the bottom.
In total, the challenge took them 5.5 hours to complete. Having set out from home at 2.30am to get to the mountain, by the time they returned to the base, they were mentally and physically exhausted, too tired even for a celebratory drink.
Gary’s hope was that by talking about the challenge on social media, his website, giving page, through work and in person, that it would start the conversation with others. As a result, it has sent out a positive message, and it has got people talking.
One of the most poignant comments Gary made was that, “I didn't conquer Ben Nevis, nobody conquers the mountain, it isn't about that. It is about conquering our limitations which we set ourselves in our own mind. It’s about matching a burning desire with the faith and the belief in yourself that you're gonna do it, that thought will outweigh any calls of ‘impossible’.”
Gary is a true role model for the power of talking about mental health, for the resilience you can build within yourself and the importance of having a network of positive people around you. Gary is hoping to inspire others both in talking openly about their mental health but also in undertaking their own fundraising challenges. “Do something you enjoy doing, remember why you are doing it, get others involved, and raise funds for a good cause like Mates in Mind which you really resonate with.”
At Mates in Mind we recognise his determination, resilience and courage, as well as being grateful for both the awareness and money Gary has raised. We wish him well on his future fundraising challenges.