A Scottish Olympian basketball player is aiming to become the country’s tallest marathon runner at 6ft 10in, as he looks to raise awareness of mental health among young people.
Kieron Achara, a former Team GB player during London 2012, plans to run as ambassador for SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) at the Stirling Scottish Marathon.
The former Glasgow Rocks captain has faced his own challenges with mental health.
First, as a young person growing up Braehead, Stirling, where being teased at school for being tall and black made him feel uneasy at times.
And then coming to terms with his own sporting mortality. He said: “One minute you are Kieron Achara basketball star and Olympian, the next you are plain Kieron from Paisley, a thirtysomething looking for a job with a baby on the way.
“Psychiatrists say that professional athletes are the only people who die twice.”
Now 37, Kieron says there is life after professional sport.
Kieron lives in Paisley with wife Megan and children Braylon and Adelyn.
He works with Frog Systems, a digital firm that promotes mental health and wellbeing and is regular basketball pundit for Sky Sports. Last year, his work with community sport was recognised with an MBE in the Queen’s Honours List.
He says: “I love it. It helps my mental well-being as well as my physical well-being.
“And running with a goal, to cross that finishing line at Stirling and to raise awareness and money for SAMH gives me purpose.”
Young people have been hardest hit by the pandemic, with studies suggesting up to 40% have suffered mentally during lockdown. Waiting lists for Children and Adolescent Health Services are at a record high.
Kieron says: “Yes, we are in crisis mode and a lot of people are feeling lost and uncertain just now, but it is OK to have these feelings. It is OK, not to be OK. And it is OK to talk about it.
“The focus has to be on prevention, before we reach that crisis mode, and sport offers a solution.
“When we think of sport, we focus on the physical fitness benefits that regular exercise brings, often overlooking the positive effects that it brings for our mental health. The camaraderie, the sense of purpose, the feeling of worth, simply getting out of the house and socialising. In the world of lockdown, it is all he more relevant.”
Kieron says the NHS do offer plenty of coping strategies. But the challenge is getting that information out to the people most in need. He points to a pilot by Sussex Cricket Club, who set up a mental health and wellbeing hub with the NHS, as a model that could be adopted nationwide.
He says: “Sport is so well-placed to help deliver positive messages. Hopefully, others will join me on this journey. It make take some time – it’s a marathon not a sprint – but it will change lives.”
The Stirling Scottish Marathon on October 24 is the highlight of a two-day festival of running which includes a half marathon, 5k and family fun run.