Stepping out for mental health

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Shelley McDougall happily arrives in Ashburton on her way to Tinwald for an overnight stop.
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Shelley McDougall cuts a lone figure walking along the State Highway One in to Ashburton – there is no pomp and ceremony hailing her arrival.

She is wearing an I Am Hope tee shirt and a backpack, and is clipping along at a steady pace on her own personal journey – one she hopes will benefit others.

Shelley, a preschool teacher from Invercargill, is making her way down the country in support of mental health.

She has a Givealittle page set up to raise funds for the I Am Hope Foundation, and is keen to remind people to stay connected with others – either by checking in on the people they love, or by giving a smile to a stranger.

‘‘It is amazing how far that can go,’’ she said.

Shelley started her trek from Cape Reinga on Gumboot Friday – November 4 – and is heading down the country towards her finish line at Bluff in early March. She is ahead of her target.

She arrived in Ashburton this week after completing a leg walking from Rakaia to Ashburton – nearly 30kms.

Shelley McDougall arrives in Ashburton.

She set out early Monday morning and arrived in Ashburton, alongside her Aunt, around 1.30pm. She had originally set herself a 20km daily target.

Her Aunt and Uncle were supporting her during the leg in a campervan.

The trio stayed overnight in Tinwald, before continuing south and inland to Geraldine.

‘‘Through two severe weather watches bringing torrential rain and gale force winds, to searing heat so intense the tar melted to my shoes and my walking poles got stuck – it’s been an interesting, life changing, eye opening, painful but joyful,’’ Shelley said, of the first 11 weeks of her epic journey.

‘‘Some may think I’m crazy to walk the entire country mainly on my own, but once I’d made the decision to do it, there was no stopping me.’’

But it was a time for reflection and one 12 months in the planning, she said.

‘‘It was about a year ago I decided I was going to walk the country for mental health. I’d experienced some of my own mental health challenges and watched plenty of loved ones battle it to.

‘‘So, I decided to do this to let those close to me, and the thousands of Kiwis struggling with mental health, to know they are not alone!

‘‘I am also raising funds for the I Am Hope Foundation, who help connect young people with counsellors or therapists.’’

Her Givealittle page (walk-with-me-shelleys-journey-for-mental-health) had so far raised more than $5370.

There is also a dance element in her trek, and people can follow her journey on Facebook.

‘‘During my own mental health journey, a friend convinced me to join Latin Dance Invercargill. ‘‘It completely changed my life. It has got to be one of the best things I have ever done.

‘‘When I’m dancing I can’t think about anything else except connecting with the music and, for a short time, nothing else matters.’’

She said Latin Dance improved her mental health so much she decided to do things a little different and dance her way down the country.

‘‘I’m stopping at Latin Dance Schools along the way where we will dance and connect with each other to raise funds for the charity.

‘‘What a journey it has been so far.

“One day I felt like I was on a ‘bear hunt’ jumping from one obstacle to the next – 1km stretch of new tar seal melted in the heat, it was like walking through sticky mud!

‘‘I had to jump a fence, walk through long wavy grass, and don’t get me started on the bridge crossings! ‘‘I’ve walked over long, winding hills, through farm paddocks, and dense bush.

‘‘I’ve been drenched by massive passing trucks, and I’ve got more blisters than I could count, as well as some epic tan lines. ‘‘I’ve listened to audible books, country tunes, and one day I even treated some cows to their very own personal performance.

‘‘I know that by doing this walk, I am raising awareness around mental health and caring for each other, and that’s all I wanted to do!

‘‘I am walking mainly solo, but I’ve had plenty of offers from family and friends to join me for short stints along the way, which I’m looking forward to as I make my way further and closer to home.’’

She was thankful for the support of her parents, David and Pam, and a host of family, friends and sponsors.

‘‘I feel so blessed for the huge amount of support,’’ she said.

All funds raised will go to I Am Hope and the Gumboot Friday appeal.