A Newry man who almost “lost himself and his family due to addiction” is pounding the tarmac for 100 consecutive days in his third year of giving back to the charity that not only changed his life, but that of his family.
Recovering alcoholic, Barry Bannon, began this year’s challenge on January 26 and will be completing a 10k run every day from now until May 4, alongside his supportive wife, Rachael, who will be completing 100 5k walks.
Thanks to the unwavering support of Newry-based aftercare addiction centre, Davina’s Ark, the father-of-two received the counselling and guidance he needed to enter into recovery.
However, Barry insists that Davina’s Ark isn’t “just a charity for those in addiction. It helps the whole family.”
Barry is candid about his struggles.
He admits: “I had struggled with alcohol for years and coupled with my declining mental health, my spiral of addiction quickly set in. I was stuck in a bad cycle of not knowing how to deal with my emotions and using alcohol to cope and didn’t know what to do or what to live for anymore.
“Being an alcoholic didn’t only affect me. It had a massive impact on my family and loved ones. Davina’s Ark gave us all a better understanding of what happens to the body and brain in active addiction. It is a brain disease but with hard work, dedication and determination, the brain can rewire itself back to it’s previous state. I know I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for the support from Davina’s Ark and my amazing family.”
Barry credits Davina’s Ark with treating him “as a person, not just an addict”, and with providing counselling services, not only specific to himself but also to his family.
Speaking to Armagh I, Barry cites this family care as the “whole reason” he started raising money for the centre he calls his “safe space” three years ago.
He said: “There has to be more done and more confidence built around people struggling with addictions because I know it affects so many people and so many people are shying away and not reaching out and asking for help. There’s a whole stigma all around it and I just want to try and inspire people to reach out and get the help. You don’t realise it until you ask for help but there is so much support out there it’s unbelievable.”
During Barry’s recovery running became a therapy in itself. It was a way to keep himself active physically and mentally, but he knew he could put it to better use.
He said: “An idea popped into my head that I wanted to put the running to good use. Only for the likes of Davina’s Ark for showing me everything that they have done in recovery and the backbone they provide with family support. I wanted to find a way to give back to them.
“The funds go back into the charity which enables them to offer counselling sessions for the person in addiction and to support the family with understanding what addiction is and how it has happened.”
Barry, who has made running part of his weekly routine, has been keeping to a slightly enhanced training programme for the 100 day effort. Wife Rachael, who also supported the effort last year with 5k walks, has also ramped up this year training with Couch to 5k with the hope of getting some 5k runs under her belt in 2024.
The couple’s six-year-old son is also refusing to be left out. Barry boasted: “He has been out on a run with me and managed 3k! He’s eager to get out again and he just wants to be involved.”
The Bannons’ fundraiser comes to an end on May 5 when Barry will undertake a real test of endurance at the Belfast City Marathon – not only hot off the back of 100 straight days of 10k runs but also his first ever marathon experience.
But he’s not adding any pressure to perform. He said: “The only competition I have is myself. I just want to keep myself right. It’s not about times or speeds, it’s just about charity work. As long as I reach the finish line it doesn’t really matter about times or anything like that.”
Ultimately – for Barry – the challenge is about more than raising funds. He’s fighting the stigma.
“I want to put a couple of bricks in the road for other people and especially my kids as well” said Barry. “I want them to grow up and have more awareness about mental health and addiction. I just want to see things made more ‘normal’.
“It’s ok if you do trip and fall, you can ask for a bit of help.”
You can make a donation to the Bannon’s Challenge via their GoFundMe page with all monies going towards Davina’s Ark Aftercare Addiction Centre.