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Heroes run in our family: Luke Uzoziri’s story

Luke shares his fundraising story for Mind, in honour of his Mum

Luke Uzoziri with his late Mum, Deborah

We’ve been asking you to nominate your fundraising heroes and are delighted to announce our first monthly winner, Luke Uzoziri, who has turned unimaginable tragedy into something positive. Earlier this year, Luke’s mother Deborah, who suffered from depression, took her own life. Luke, who has struggled with his own mental health, is running the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon in her memory whilst raising money for Mind. Here is his story in his own words.

When Mum passed away I knew I needed to try and do something positive. I’ve been struggling with my own mental health issues and at that moment I knew I needed a goal to work towards. I've always wanted to run the Virgin Money London Marathon, but I’ve never had enough guts or motivation to do so. The only thing I was scared about – other than having to physically run 26 miles – was whether I would be able to raise enough money to justify a charity place. But that’s part of the challenge and I was delighted when I got a place running for Mind.

When it came to eventually setting up my page I was super-honest about my situation. It's hard to explain why, but when Mum took her life I didn't want to talk about it openly. I was lost, full of questions and regret and I felt very vulnerable. But then after Mum’s inquest happened an article about her was published, which given I wasn’t ready to open up about it yet, really wounded me. It was like someone telling a secret that you're not ready to share yet. So I decided to write about how I felt on my fundraising page, to maybe help people understand and to a certain extent take back some control. Once I started writing, I couldn't really stop and even though it was very painful when doing so I actually found it quite cathartic putting my thoughts and feelings down. I think the honesty helped with the fundraising as it resonated with more people than I imagined it would. I guess it's hard for someone to read a genuine story like that and be like "okay, whatever".

Fundraising wise, I sent emails and texts with my fundraising link to every person I felt comfortable sending it to, and even some I wasn't so comfortable sharing it with - which was hard as not everyone responds initially or at all for that matter, even despite being chased – but that is part of the challenge of fundraising I suppose. Overall though the response has been absolutely amazing. I made my initial [£5,000] funding goal within a day – it was only then that it hit me: "Oh my God, I've got to start running."

People know I’ve become a bit lazy exercise wise, that I take a lot of taxis and I’ve begun to develop a bit of a dad bod! I used to try to exercise every so often, but when I was struggling mentally, I just gave up and started to eat my feelings instead. Now I’ve started running I am feeling a bit less stressed, less emotionally vulnerable and I don't feel embarrassed – other than when a pensioner laps me going around Regent's Park! I’ve been sharing my training progress stories on Instagram along with other posts. I’ve tried to make it as fun and engaging as possible. When I realised I got to number two on Virgin Money Giving’s fundraiser leaderboard I began to make jokes about trying to catch the leader in the hope of encouraging more people to donate.

The charity Mind means a lot to me personally. Whilst they didn't have any involvement with my mum because she was a very private person and, ultimately, she didn't end up getting the help she needed, I’d struggled with mental health issues before she passed. Life had begun to get really, really hard in a short space of time. I always thought I was quite a strong person, but at some point things can get too much and you begin to crack. At a personally low point I decided to get help, but at the same time I was worried. What would my friends think, what would my family think, what would people at work think if they found out? So Google is where I started, and Mind was the first website that I properly engaged with and they really helped me to understand the various health issues and the routes I could take. There's a wealth of information there [and that’s just one of the incredible services they offer].

We need to get better at discussing mental health. At first I was quite apprehensive about telling my story – the last thing you want to do is share something like that and get no response back given how personal and raw it is, but the response overall has been incredible and seems to have encouraged other people to open up in return which is good. For me the marathon was a way to lock in some positive progress on my road to recovery and to support a good cause. It’s also for my Mum. She was always the person that I would share my successes or failures with, and I want to make this a success.

Read more about Luke’s story and donate to his cause.

To celebrate Luke’s incredible efforts fundraising for Mind, we’ve sent him a pair of New Balance trainers and a £250 Virgin Experience Days gift card. He’s thinking of taking to the skies in a London helicopter ride, or having a massage to unwind after his training runs. Plus he’s chosen new trainers to help him recover from shin splints and stay balanced on his runs. Happy running and fundraising Luke!

Here’s to following Luke’s example and turning every tragedy into something positive.

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