Army veteran limbers up for marathon treadmill fundraising challenge

Mike O'Brien (centre) is doing a 15-hour treadmill marathon at Barretts Fitness Club in Dereham. With him is, (left) Gym owner Graham Barrett and Dereham RBL President David Fairweather. Picture: Matthew Usher. Mike O'Brien (centre) is doing a 15-hour treadmill marathon at Barretts Fitness Club in Dereham. With him is, (left) Gym owner Graham Barrett and Dereham RBL President David Fairweather. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
12:40 PM

An army veteran who has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for nearly two decades will run and cycle for 15 hours at a gym to raise money for servicemen’s families.

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Michael O’Brien, who served with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, will rise to the challenge at the Barretts Health and Fitness gym in Dereham the day after the Light Dragoons’ homecoming parade through the town after their tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The 39-year-old was a singer at Butlins when the sight of soldiers preparing to fight the 1991 Gulf War changed his life forever.

He said: “I remember watching the news and thinking: ‘I’m here and I’m a young, able-bodied guy and these guys are going there, so I decided to sign up.”

He went on to serve in the Gulf, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Northern Ireland, but started to suffer flashbacks, nightmares, paranoia and depression in the mid-1990s.

Mr O’Brien said he worked as a restaurant manager in Scotland but was made to feel uncomfortable when he told them about his condition, and left.

He added: “It’s sad. I know a lot of people in the armed forces with the same thing and I think: ‘If people understand what PTSD and combat stress are – it’s not dangerous if it’s controlled’ and I’m on medication.

“I do suffer nightmares and a certain amount of paranoia but I have friends and doctors who all rally around.”

Mr O’Brien, a trained aikido instructor, will start his physical challenge at Barretts Health and Fitness between 6.30am and 9.30pm next Thursday.

He said: “I just want people to know, those who have served or loved ones, that they are not alone and people do care. If we can get people to realise there are other people willing to do fundraising and willing to say: ‘Look, I know what you are going through – don’t be afraid to ask,’ maybe the community will grow bigger and stronger.”

Ben Archard, assistant manager at the SportsDirect shop in Dereham, has kitted him out with new running shoes, shirts and shorts.

The money raised will go to the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal. Donations to Mr O’Brien’s fundraising tally can be made at the gym, which is behind The Bull, in High Street.

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