MyMind and Aura Leisure promote mental fitness

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MyMind has teamed up with Aura Sport and Leisure to promote positive mental and physical fitness.

To mark Suicide Prevention Day, which is taking place across the world tomorrow – Saturday, 10th September – Aura Leisure and MyMind are working together to highlight the important link between physical and mental wellbeing.

No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to boost your mental wellbeing and resilience.

Exercise is one of the little things we can all do to look after our wellbeing. We can feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about ourselves and our lives.

Motivational speaker and founder of Fighting Fit for Ewings (FFFE) Nikki Bradley is an advocate for physical and mental fitness.

Nikki is working with both MyMind and Aura to encourage others to look after their own mental wellbeing through exercise, getting support for their difficulties and staying positive.

Nikki is currently training for the 0-60 challenge with Aura Leisure, which will see her go from being a weak swimmer to swimming 60 lengths of the pool! 

Good luck Nikki, we know you can do it!

Here, is Nikki’s story.

Exercise – Does it really help your head?

Four years ago I would have given a non committal shrug when addressing the title question. I don’t think I could have answered it properly as I genuinely didn’t know.  When responding to that question now, I would all but shout; ‘YES!!!’

What gives me the authority to answer with such passion you might wonder. Let me explain.

My name is Nikki Bradley, I am a 30 year old living in wet and wonderful Donegal. I am also the founder of an awareness campaign called Fighting Fit For Ewing’s and a permanent crutch user.

I have been dealing with the aftermath of cancer since 2003 where radiotherapy destroyed my right hip. Two total right hip replacements, one broken femur, one massive hip infection, a leg length discrepancy of 11cm, severe nerve and muscle damage and most recently, the news that I will lose my right leg has understandably changed me as a person.

Where once I would have approached exercise with a mixture of trepidation and ‘non-arsery’, I now look forward to my regular training sessions and absolutely love the fact that I am physically strong.

My life changed in 2013 when I attended what I thought was a run of the mill meeting with my consultant in St. Vincent’s Hospital Dublin. It was summer and I had spent the first half of the year having trial treatments, some of which included; nerve blocks, spinal cord stimulation and an epidural. All failed miserably.

I walked into the meeting expecting my doctor to suggest another treatment and I was less than enthusiastic. What happened next changed my life and also changed my way of thinking. He sat me down and with a tone of regret, informed me that we had reached the end of the road. The various teams; oncology, pain management and orthopaedic had done everything they could but they were officially stumped. My case was too unusual. In a nutshell, they were giving up on me. The icing on the cake? I was also told I was going to remain on crutches for the rest of my life.

I walked out of that meeting and wandered over to a wall where I sat for a long time. I closed my eyes tilting my head up to the sun and felt the heat on my face. Anyone looking at me would have thought that I didn’t have a care in the world. While sitting there I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time. Freedom. I realised in that moment that I had put my life on hold while waiting to ‘get better’. To be told I was not going to get better, in fact, I would likely get worse was, strangely, the news I needed to hear.

Three weeks later my awareness campaign, Fighting Fit For Ewing’s, was born.

I set up the campaign for two main reasons;
1) To raise awareness for Ewing’s Sarcoma which is a rare form of bone cancer that affected me in my teens.
2) To highlight the importance of exercise for rehabilitation.

I began training regularly in the gym, lifting weights and pushing myself further than I had done so before. Three months in, I was off all pain medication bar one. That sounds dramatic to say simple exercise allowed me to stop medication that I had previously relied heavily on, but it is true. I was still in pain but I was learning to get on with things regardless.

Six months in I was physically AND mentally stronger. I left each training session sore, tired and happy. My body was exhausted but my mind was loving every minute. We all know that exercise releases endorphins so there was a reasonable explanation for my happiness but it was more than that. I had an excellent trainer who pushed me. He knew I was capable of more than I knew myself and with his help I became a different person. My attitude towards everything changed. I was no longer afraid which brought about a freedom I had not known previously.

I had struggled at times with my own thoughts, doubts and fears. I would often lie awake at night worrying about genuinely scary things such as; ‘Will I live to see 50?’ or ‘Am I strong enough to continue with the life I have been given?’ I was scared about my future and felt very isolated at times. I decided to speak with a professional after my initial diagnosis and felt almost ashamed that I wasn’t strong enough to deal with my situation alone.

Thankfully the girl who had those thoughts grew into a woman who didn’t give a shit! Pushing the boundaries physically allowed me to do the same emotionally. I openly talk about the importance of seeking professional help if you need it and I am proud of myself for taking that initial step all of those years ago.

I have spoken to people numerous times over the years and will continue to do so if and when I need it but I don’t focus on the negative anymore. Thanks to my training I have learned to be the kind of person that can enjoy life while dealing with serious physical pain/disability simultaneously. I don’t allow pain to be the deciding factor anymore.

Where once I would have turned down an invitation to go somewhere because I was sore, I now accept the invitation regardless. The pain will be there whether I sit on the couch or climb a mountain. I have a choice.
I decided to incorporate physical challenges into my campaign quite early on as I wanted to use myself as an example to others. The mantra being ‘If she can do it then so can I!’ To date I have climbed numerous mountains, some completely snow covered, I have abseiled into a 45 foot ice cave, scaled a glacier in Iceland, attempted a Guinness World Record in Holland, became the first woman to abseil off Fanad Head Lighthouse in Co. Donegal, completed numerous 5km races and climbed a 147 foot sea stack- all while relying heavily on crutches.

I have teamed up with Aura Leisure in Letterkenny for my latest challenge; ‘Nikki’s 0-60’ where I have been having swimming lessons. I have never been a strong swimmer due to the weakness in my leg so the aim is to teach me what I need to know to become a good, if not great swimmer! Our end goal is to swim 60 lengths of an Olympic sized swimming pool. ‘MyMind’, who are a community based provider of accessible mental health care, have also teamed up with Aura Leisure Centres around Ireland to promote the positive link between exercise and a positive mental attitude.

As we speak, engineers in the UK are designing a prosthesis for my hip that, if successful, should allow me to hold on to my leg for a little longer. However, the risk of infection with further surgery is 50/50. Those are not great odds. If the prosthesis gets infected I will have to have it removed immediately and will be fast tracked to the inevitable which is a full leg amputation.

I also have the option to stay as I am which involves experiencing daily pain and huge discomfort as my already damaged hip deteriorates further. Not great options and a lot for one person to deal with. The old me might have buckled under the pressure.

Thanks to my lifestyle, I am capable of living a full and exciting life while having these very serious issues ticking away in the background. That is directly down to my mind frame. I am as strong mentally as I am physically which gives me the freedom to reach for the stars.
I do not know what the future holds for me. I will certainly face more hardship but I am hopeful that I will also experience more amazing things. My mind is something that has to be fed and I believe exercise is my food of choice. If I could give you one piece of advice it would be to try it for yourself. Don’t just take my word for it. Get out there, get active and see what happens!