In the end, it was biking that helped Katie Marlow to beat the depression she’d battled her whole adult life.
After years of mental health struggles, Katie stumbled across a mountain bike video online, and decided on impulse to get on the saddle and try it for herself.
After buying her own bike, Katie quickly racked up a whole host of experience – completing sponsored rides, trying new trails, climbing hills, attempting tricks, and feeling more positive and confident than ever before.
And now, the 24-year-old has set up a new South Yorkshire group, MTB for Mental Health, to encourage others who struggle with mental health issues to join her on rides around the region.
“Mountain biking is a joy,” said Katie, who lives in Barnsley.
“I mean the pure kid at Christmas, whooping in delight, kind of joy. A feeling I had all but forgotten in recent years. A joy that pure is something I had lost touch with, I think the depression had hoovered up my sense of fun along with other key parts of the person I used to be, and am slowly returning to. I associated this type of activity purely with childhood before and I think a lot of people may be the same.
“As adults we are told to be sensible and not take too many risks. Long days leave us feeling drained and stressed, and that feeling of childish joy takes a major back seat in our lives.
“Then I found mountain biking and the feeling of joy came back to me in a sudden rush. I was hooked after one ride. My first adult ride was in one of the wettest settings you can imagine, puddles everywhere, rain coming down in sheets, getting stuck in boggy grass. I peddled my way through puddles the size of swimming pools and loved every minute of it.
“This feeling hasn't gone away with time, and I think it is an integral part of why we keep riding no matter how many times we hit the deck or something happens that scares us witless. Riding has brought a sense of fun and playfulness into my life that hadn't been there before, shining some light back into the darkness. Whooping with joy as you hit a jump and the grin that you can barely hold back is such a good feeling, you can't help but want to go back for more.”
Katie, who works as a trainee legal cashier at Wake Smith Solicitors, now runs MTB for Mental Health in her free time which organises wellness rides aimed at people new to mountain biking, who want a relaxed ride in the beautiful scenery in and around Sheffield and the Peak District and who want to experience a slice of the exciting sport.
The rides are already attracting a group of eight cyclists who all go out every two weeks to enjoy the fresh air and excitement of the trails.
“This feeling of joy is multiplied when you ride in a group,” she said.
“It encourages you to do things you may not attempt on your own and show you something you didn't know before. When you all nail a feature, the feeling of joy and accomplishment you all feel together is something that can leave you smiling to yourself for days afterwards.
“I had struggled with my mental health for most of my adult life. Nothing in particular triggered my depression, it just crept into my life and didn't announce itself until it was something I was no longer equipped to deal with. It had slowly, but surely, eaten away at my love for life, my passions and my self-respect.
“After finally seeking help from the NHS about two years ago, I began my recovery through cognitive behaviour therapy and my outlook on life began to change.
“All through this recovery period I was looking for something that would help me rediscover a passion in my life and I happened to stumble on to a mountain biking video on Facebook and I asked my best friend if she fancied trying it too. Luckily she did and I haven't looked back since.”
MTB for Mental Health ride member, Richard, said: “I’d been riding for 18 months, after realising I needed to get some exercise and get out in the local countryside to improve my mental and physical well being. I’d been depressed since having a colostomy bag fitted, several years ago.
“When Katie started posting her rides as events, I decided to go along. I had a great time, I wasn’t the slowest, as I usually am on a group ride, and I wasn’t the fastest but I really enjoyed the sense of camaraderie that came with knowing we were all there to help ourselves feel better.
“I’ll definitely be going on some more rides soon and look forward to meeting up with the group again.”
Katie added: “I can’t begin to explain how much it means to me that people have travelled to come on a ride with me, let me lead them and make sure they have a good time, it’s just an amazing feeling. Everyone is welcome: bring your bike, your helmet and a sense of adventure and you'll do just fine!”
Visit www.mtbformentalhealth.co.uk for further details.