AS YOU know I am a great believer in the power of exercise, it has helped me overcome many obstacles and given me a strong focus during a time when I really needed it.
A woman who shares my opinion is Ballybofey mother-of-five Margaret Callaghan. Margaret contacted me recently with a story that will resonate with many of you. Her twelve-year-old son Jon was being bullied. This is his story.
In March 2014 Margaret began to notice a change in Jon’s behaviour. She was used to him excelling in his studies and knew he genuinely enjoyed learning so when his school work began to slip, Margaret grew concerned.
He became sullen, withdrawn and stopped doing the things he loved to do. For five years Jon was heavily involved in Irish dancing, he moved up through the grades and participated in competitions nation-wide but seemingly out of the blue he announced he was no longer interested. This was completely out of character and Margaret knew something was wrong. She tried to coax it out of him but her persistence pushed him away.
Two worrying months passed by and with it the families concern grew. Finally in May 2014 Jon admitted to being bullied. Margaret recalls the sense of helplessness she felt on hearing the news. Naturally she was filled with questions but to avoid scaring Jon off she decided to try a different approach. One morning as Margaret prepared to go for her usual three mile walk she asked Jon to accompany her. To her delight he agreed and off they went.
During their walk they laughed easily and made general chit-chat but the subject of bullying was not mentioned. Riding on the success of their first walk they decided to make it a regular occurrence. At first its was all about the walking, they concentrated on how far they were going to go and nothing more. As time passed however Jon began to open up about his experience with bullying. Throughout the Summer of 2014 Margaret and Jon continued to walk and talk and over time Margaret began to see the old spark reignite within Jon. Exercise became their escape, the one thing that allowed them the freedom to get through a difficult time in their lives. September arrived all too soon and Jon returned to school in the hope that his ordeal would be over, but unfortunately that was not the case. The bullying started up again and Jon retreated back into himself.
He also started showing physical signs of stress and anxiety by fainting on numerous occasions. When his doctor referred him to the hospital the Callaghan family were forced to make a decision. After careful consideration they took Jon out of school.
Arrangements were made and Jon started at his new school at the beginning of October. He began showing signs of progress almost immediately and his family were over the moon to have him back. He settled in perfectly with his new classmates and his grades improved significantly. Throughout his ordeal Jon and his mum walked every week gradually lengthening their distance. By December they were walking almost twenty miles per week.
Their increasing levels of fitness led to days of hill walking and mountain climbing usually organised by Jon. Margaret genuinely believes walking saved her son. Having that shared experience gave Jon the freedom to open up to her and their relationship has blossomed as a result.
Jon is excelling at his studies and aspires to study medicine when he completes school. He is involving himself with school activities and has gained confidence along the way.
Jon’s story has truly inspired me. For a child to face something as awful as bullying and not crumble under the weight of it is amazing. It would have been easy for him to give up but his strength did not allow him to do that. There is something about Jon that I have not told you because I wanted you to read his story first and not form an opinion based on a physical ‘disability’.
Jon has permanent hearing loss in both ears and did not speak until he was five years old. He experiences daily discomfort in his ears and currently wears one hearing aid with a second to be added when he starts secondary school. Regardless of this set back and daily struggle Jon has never allowed it to dictate what he does with his life and he is only getting started!
Muckish and Croagh Patrick are just two climbs on his bucket list, his long term goal involves a family trip to Spain to walk part of the Camino De Santiago with his mum and sister Megan in 2019.
When I spoke with Margaret she said she couldn’t believe how something as simple as putting on a raincoat and walking the road could give a child a zest for life and I couldn’t agree with her more. Jon discovered his love for walking during a trying time in his life. His path has been carved by how he dealt with that situation. I think we will see great things from him in the future and I only hope we can take a little inspiration from his story.
I would like to thank the Callaghan family for sharing their experience with us. It is not easy to lay something so personal out for everyone to see and I have great respect for them and their bravery. Margaret and Jon, I wish you well in everything you do and maybe one day we will meet on a dusty road along the Camino.
Nikki Bradley is the founder of Fighting Fit For Ewing’s, a campaign to promote awareness of Ewing’s Sarcoma. Nikki is sponsored by All Sports in Donegal Town. Support her campaign by giving ‘Fighting Fit For Ewing’s’ a LIKE on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @nikkibradley59