UFC commentator John Gooden isn’t one to get rattled. He’s finished an Ironman triathlon, he’s held his own with some killers on the mat as a jiu-jitsu player and traveling the world for the UFC is hectic existence in itself. But when he talks about his upcoming 90-mile walk to raise awareness on mental health issues and raise money for the Young Minds Trust, he admits, “It’s a bit scary.”
Not being able to get the miles in to train the way he wanted to for the April 5-8 journey from Eastbourne to Southampton has been due to good things in the life of Gooden, mainly having a baby in the house and doing more broadcasting work for the UFC, but when you’re an athlete like he is, preparation is always a concern.
“I would have liked to have been doing some formal training,” he laughs. “And it’s hard to train for walking because the only way you can train for a long walk is by taking a long walk. So I’ve been trying to get out in the mornings for half an hour to an hour and just fast walk just to try and get some miles in. But there’s a big difference between doing an hour in the morning and then doing eight hours of walking over the day. So I’m a little nervous about it because I haven’t prepared how I would like to.”
But when the bell tolls on April 5, Gooden will be there and ready to walk, along with his friends Steve McKeown, Chris Smith, Phil Burman and Sarah Brown. It was the idea of McKeown, a renowned psychotherapist and performance coach, to make this journey, and when he called Gooden to gauge his interest in doing it, the timing was key.
“I received Steve’s call only a couple of weeks after a friend of mine took his own life,” said Gooden. “You would never had known he was struggling. He was a brilliant man and one who you were drawn to due to his infectious, positive and fun energy. He left behind a wife and child and, of course, a circle of broken hearted friends and family who really couldn’t understand why.”
Needless to say, Gooden was all-in, and with mental health awareness finally starting to reach a wider audience, the stigma often associated with such issues is breaking.
“Every time I watch the TV and everyday on social media, I stumble across another case of a man struggling with poor mental health and crying out for help,” he said. “I applaud the courage to reach out and I urge others to offer that assistance. I have spoken with scores of fighters over the years that have openly shared their battles about performance blocks and performance anxiety. They operate in a high stakes game and sometimes observers can be cruel.”
But there is help out there, and providing that help is the goal of the Young Minds organization, the UK’s “leading charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health.” Yet sometimes, all it takes is having someone to talk to, and Gooden hopes the 90-mile walk will bring out folks along the route to take advantage of having open ears among the group.
“The idea is that it is a walk and talk,” said Gooden. “We’re trying to encourage people to express some of their anxieties and whatever it might be. We’re trying to get people to come out and I would like to think that can I lend an ear and listen and talk from personal experiences, direct and indirect, and be a sounding board for people. It’s a good cause.”
And a cause worth putting on your walking shoes for if you’re anywhere from Eastbourne to Southampton over the next few days.
“Until I started speaking to Steve about the deeper reasons for this walk, I was unaware that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 35,” said Gooden. “That is a harrowing statistic. Despite many international campaigns to banish the stigma of mental health issues, it is clear we, as a society, are not doing enough. This is a walk with a difference, as we are asking people to join us. Steve is offering free counseling to anyone who wants it and the rest of us are there to support. We want to lend our voices to the movement that is trying to spotlight mental health to those in a position of authority so that better, more widespread services can be made available.”
For more information on the walk, click here.