Picture: Brendan Wyatt

Wellington Phoenix physio Brendan Wyatt is going above and beyond to raise awareness for mental health, running 21 half-marathons in 21 weeks.

No A-League clubs has felt the full impact of COVID-19 quite like the Wellington Phoenix.

A temporary move away from its home city to Wollongong quickly became permanent as the league battled to get the A-League season underway in the face of a global crisis.

An entire club not only packing up and moving to a different country was never going to be easy as Wellington Phoenix assistant physio Brendan Wyatt attested to when he spoke with The Inner Sanctum.

Through adversity, though, Brendan was able to focus his energy on helping others and to kick off 2021, decided to run a half marathon every week for 21 weeks in order to raise money and awareness for mental health.

“After moving to Wollongong it was hard feeling disconnected from friends and family back home, and especially given all the uncertainty around travel restrictions it was hard to know when you were going to be able to see your support network and community again,” he told The Inner Sanctum.

“So I decided to create a fundraiser to try and help create a small positive community here in Wollongong and help link that back to some fundraising work I’ve already done for years back in Wellington and Auckland around mental health.

“To mark 2021, I decided I was going to run a half marathon (21km) every week for 21 weeks as a way to help raise money and awareness for The Mental Health Foundation of NZ, as well as The Black Dog Institute here in Australia.

“I may not be an expert on mental health and I’m not skilled enough to help people through complex mental illnesses but what I knew I could do well, is run.”

Though the strain of moving into an entirely new environment was certainly a motivating factor, Wyatt says that the importance of overcoming the stigma surrounding mental health for young men was a driving force behind his decision to undertake the challenge.

“Growing up, myself and many of those close to me have experienced struggles and difficulties with mental health,” he began.

“As a young guy I’ve also had first-hand experience about how hard it can be to talk about your struggles and to let yourself be vulnerable or emotional due to the stigma that gets placed on you regarding needing to be staunch and tough.

“Whether that be through difficult relationships, finding your identity coming through school and university, losing close friends or dealing with unexpected challenges like being relocated to a new country for work, everybody has faced some difficult situation in one way or the other and in a lot of cases it would’ve impacted on the mental health of many.”

Phoenix captain Uli Davila modelling the special edition Wollongong jersey.
Picture: Wellington Phoenix

Like many, Brendan himself is no stranger to tough situations and has a message for young men who grew up facing these challenges as he did.

“For myself I’ve dealt with bullying through school, the unexpected loss of close friends and had multiple serious injuries and surgeries as well, so I know what it’s like to find yourself in a challenging headspace and be in need of somebody to talk to and open up to for help,” he said.

“As a young male, I know how hard it was to speak out about some of the difficulties I faced and I know there are still many people who don’t feel as though they can speak out about what’s going on due to the fears of being perceived as attention-seeking, weak, dramatic and vulnerable.”

A man with two homes, Brendan has done his best to make sure his impact is felt back in New Zealand as well as in his new temporary home of Wollongong through the charities he has selected.

“I’ve selected The Mental Health Foundation of NZ because they are an incredible charity that does so much around mental health awareness and are constantly helping to support many kiwi’s who may find themselves in need,” Brendan said.

“They do some amazing work in the area of mental health and I’ve had a relationship with them through fundraising and awareness work for many years now.

“I’ve also selected The Black Dog Institute as I also recognise the amazing work they do here in Australia, being new here I did some research into the mental health space and saw how they are able to also impact on the lives of many through their charity work.

“I wanted to give back to my true home and temporary home simultaneously.”

Brendan credits the Phoenix for their help throughout his fundraising campaign and says that both the players and staff have been instrumental in their efforts to help improve awareness.

“The Phoenix have been very supportive of my fundraising work since I came on board,” he said.

“They’ve helped get my fundraisers and awareness content across their social media platforms and many of the players have been involved in helping to donate signed boots, shirts and even shaved my hair off last year.

“The coaching staff and players have frequently asked about how the running has been going, and we were even lucky enough to have a ‘Mental Health Round’ last season which included a unique one-off kit as well as donation buckets and fundraising campaign etc with all of the proceeds going towards charity.”

2020 was a challenge for all and with the world still feeling the effects of the virus in 2021, Brendan stressed the importance on helping those around you through tough times.  

“Especially given the current climate it’s so important that people check in with each other and have a sense of empathy and perspective when dealing with people each and every day,” he said.

“It costs nothing to be kind and everybody has mental health just as they do physical health, so taking notice and looking after the mental health of those around you should be as normalised as looking after your body.”

To donate and help Brendan raise awareness for mental health, click here to access his donation page.

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