Dad uses running to deal with grief over son's suicide

By Colette Hume
BBC Wales News

image source, Andrew Bowen
image captionSamantha and dad Andrew were left devastated by their son Ryan's death

When his youngest son took his own life in June 2017, Andrew Bowen's family was destroyed.

Following 18-year-old Ryan's death, his family struggled to come to terms with the loss and Mr Bowen is awaiting post traumatic stress disorder treatment.

To help with the pain, the 52-year-old father-of-three from Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, said his son's memory inspired him to run a half marathon.

"We've been struggling every day to deal with the loss of Ryan," he said.

"To sleep - it's constant flashbacks, reliving the scene, trying to change the outcome, but it's impossible.

"I'm on the waiting list for PTSD treatment and cognitive behavioural therapy to help me get through the flashbacks and the nightmares."

Mr Bowen has joined a council-founded running group in Carmarthenshire to help people living with mental illness including depression, anxiety and PTSD.

"Someone suggested taking up running and they introduced me to this group and I thought 'I'll give it a try'," he said.

"I went along back in January in the freezing cold, rain, snow, everything - give it a shot. I've stopped smoking, I haven't had much chance to do much drinking - except for the rugby internationals - and I haven't looked back."

The initiative is led by specialist running coaches from Welsh Athletics and mental health support workers.

Just 10 weeks after their first meeting, The We Can Run Llanelli group have completed a 10-mile training run before they take on next month's Swansea Half Marathon.

image captionAndrew Bowen and We Can Run Llanelli team-mate Angharad Griffiths with coach Sharon Leech

"I've done eight Parkruns in a row and I'd never even heard of Parkrun," said Mr Bowen.

"But everything is contributing to helping me achieve this goal now and more importantly it's helping me to deal with the pain of the loss of Ryan, helping me take my mind off it, stopping me going back there. I'd recommend it to anyone, give it a go."

As he crosses the finish line of the training run at the 360 cafe on Swansea's coastal path, it is clear to see the elation as he completes his first ever 10-miler.

"I thought the goal of the half marathon was too much of a mountain to climb" he admits.

"But as the weeks have been progressing we've got up to three miles, five miles, today was our first 10-miler it's seeming more and more achievable every week now, so fingers crossed it should be ok."

Twice a week, in all weathers, the group have met. At first they could only run for a minute at a time, but as the weeks went by, their coach Sharon Leech said their confidence and fitness has grown.

image source, Andrew Bowen
image captionRyan Bowen took his own life in 2017

The 11-strong group are joined on their runs by four mental health case workers

"When you're running alongside someone you can offload some of the things that are on your mind and it's almost like whatever you tell that person on a run you know they're not going to repeat it to anyone else," said Ms Leech.

Figures say one in four adults will experience some kind of mental illness every year.

Runners could be referred to the group by GPs, mental health case workers, voluntary groups or they could ask to join themselves.

Mr Bowen used to describe himself as a 17st couch potato who smoked 20 to 30 cigarettes a day before before he joined.

image source, Andrew Bowen
image captionAndrew Bowen has struggled to get over the death of his son Ryan

Now that has changed. He has lost weight, stopped smoking and even goes out on training runs alone.

Although the grief he feels for the loss of youngest son is still raw, he said it would be thoughts of Ryan that will help get him around the 13.1 mile course.

"Ryan would have laughed at you," he said.

"He wouldn't have believed you if you'd told him a year ago his dad was going to run a half marathon. Ryan will be looking down on me and he'll make sure I cross that line."

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