(c) Dan Wedgwood / The Adventurists

Depression and the World Cycling Race: Breifne’s Story

In 2010, Breifne Earley was in a dark place. He was unhappy at work, had been single for a year and a half and he was struggling with depression. Fast forward three years and you find a happy man, having gone on countless dates, preparing to cycle around the world in an effort to break the record of 18,000 miles in 107 days.

It’s a dramatic turnaround for someone who this time 3 years ago struggled to cycle 15 kilometres on the exercise bike at a local gym.I sat down with Breifne over Skype to discuss his journey over the last three years and the build-up to the cycle. I asked him why he decided on the World Cycle Race. “Because it’s there. It’s the age-old question – why do people, for example, climb Everest? It’s because I’m looking for something that can challenge me. I’m looking for something to look back on and say ‘I did that!’. It’s something that very few people have done, and I want to be on that list.“It’s 18,000 miles on the bike, that’s just less than 29,000 kilometres. It’s governed by Guinness World Records. The current World Record is 107 days and 2 hours and a few minutes. The cycle around the world is quite complex. You pick your own route, with your start point and end point obviously being the exact same. You travel in one direction, so you can’t go back. It’s either East or West. I’m starting in London on March 1st next year. It’s on longitude 0°. I’ll be travelling East. You have to go through two cities that are directly opposite each other on a globe. For example, on my route, Hamilton in New Zealand is directly opposite Cordoba in Spain. I’ll be hitting those two cities. I’m really looking forward to just getting on the bike and really starting on the first of March”.The trip takes him across Europe, India, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Casablanca (Morocco) and many other locations. He plans to touch on every continent. “I’ll be the first person to touch all six continents, if I do it”. He believes the Rockies in North America will be “the toughest part of the trip”. “It’s pretty high in certain parts there. Sometimes 1,500 to 2,000 metres above sea level.”Listening to Breifne talk about his plans for 2014, it seems like 2010 is a lot longer than only 3 years away. “The situation I was before 2010 is almost like a bad dream when I look back at it now, I was in a bad place. I was bitterly unhappy in my job, I’d been single for 18 months and I had a lot of negativity around my life, particularly in my head, my mental state. I couldn’t see light and the end of the tunnel, I had a feeling that nobody would care if I was here or not. That was the thought process in my head. I just felt I had to change it.“The only person who I felt cared enough about me and wanted me to turn my life around was me. I felt I couldn’t rely on somebody else stepping forward and saying ‘come on Breifne, let’s sort out your life!’ I had to do it myself, which is fine. I did it. I stepped up to the plate and I wrote down ten things I wanted to do and I just focused on that list. In that 13 month period of doing my “ChallengeTen” goals, I don’t think I spent any more than 5 or 10 minutes on anything that wasn’t on my list!”

Breifne admits he is not an expert on depression and he only speaks from experience when discussing his methods for battling it. “It wasn’t so much the setting of goals, everyone has goals whether they write them down or not. For me, it was the act of putting pen to paper, or in my case typing it in on my keyboard and putting it in the public domain. I put it in a very short, simple blog. It was only around 15 lines, 10 of which were the challenges. I put it down and then I just linked it to my Facebook page and it kind of went pretty electric in a very short space of time, as in, less than a couple of hours. People were commenting going ‘What have you just done?’ or ‘Why are you doing this? That’s crazy!’ People said ‘you’re never going to do 50 blind dates in a year, or lose 5 stone. You’ll never be able to swim or do a triathlon, you’re not going to be able to finish a marathon. Are you crazy?’ I suppose, in hindsight, had I been looking at myself doing that, I’d have been saying the same things.

“I was 20 stone. I hadn’t exercised in 5 years. I was a very negative person. I barely spoke to my friends, never mind going on a blind date every week for a year. It was literally a case of just mapping out the route to get to the end goal. Simple things, like, ‘I want to get 50 blind dates, where do I start?’ Well, let’s look at what’s online. Let’s have a look at online dating and see if I can myself a date. One date, never mind 50! Let’s find one girl who’s willing to spend an evening with me. And I did. Then I did it the second week and the third week and it just kind of continued.”

He recalls his first gym session, a fifty minute cycle that took him all of 14 kilometres. “It nearly broke me, and I have no problem talking about it. It was horrific, I was in bits! It took me 45-50 minutes and I’d laugh if it took me that long now. But I really struggled! Now, to get to the gym I’m cycling more than that. I go to the gym in Blanchardstown and I live in Sandymount. (A 25 kilometre journey). It’s the other side of the city and I do that 3 times a week. So I’m clocking up 150 kilometres a week just going to the gym.”

In everyday terms, his life is extraordinarily different now than the Breifne Earley of 2010. “OK, let’s try to compare. During the week, I had one person in my office; I would have spoken to them for most of the day because I worked with them. Then another maybe 15 people who we would have had lunch with, and that was literally just a chat. I wouldn’t have met any of them, except maybe one, in a social capacity outside of work. I wouldn’t call them friends, despite being very friendly with them during that hour. It didn’t go any further than that. When I’d go home then, I lived with two guys who didn’t speak to me, and I didn’t speak to them. So my social interaction for the week was virtually zero. I didn’t see any of my friends and barely spoke to any of my family. It was a pretty lonely existence.

“Now, over the last couple of months, I have coached a women’s soccer team and an Under-16 boys’ team. So just involved in those two squads there’s around fifty players, plus parents and everything! I see them 2-3 times a week. So I’ve gone from having minute contact with maybe fifteen people, to where I’m socialising and mixing with almost a hundred people a week! This for me is the huge thing. I no longer feel like I’m on my own, or isolated. So life is pretty good.”

As depression reached its peak, Breifne considered self-harm. Suicide was a possibility. “That was the key for me. I’ll never forget the date. It was the night of the 3rd October 2010. I had been at a family wedding the day before. It was the first time I had seen a lot of my family in months. It was a particularly lonely day for me because I struggled with people around me being in relationships and being in good form and I just wasn’t. I had just received a text on the Sunday morning the 3rd, from my uncle. It was an invite to an event to celebrate the life of my cousin who had died twenty years earlier at twelve years of age. In this text, he made reference to it being the tenth of the tenth, 2010.

“This just struck a chord with me. In the last two weeks, I had watched two movies; The Bucket List and Yes Man. Neither movie will ever win an Academy Award, but it was the story that came through both of them. It was very uplifting and very positive. For me, I thought ‘It’s only a movie, but it’s based on a true story. If somebody else can do it, why can’t I start saying yes to things?’ So I did. I started being open to ideas and positive suggestions. If people invited me out I’d just say ‘yes!’ and make sure I’d go! I forced myself to go and it was nice. It was good.”

Over the coming months, a more positive outlook developed for Breifne. Within months he was looking back and remarking how far he had come, and how happy he was now. “The first time I remember being happy was to do with a girl. I had fancied one particular girl for a while, from a distance. I knew she was going to be at a festival for the weekend that a friend of mine was organising. This was during the blind date period and I went along purely with the intention of asking her out. In my opinion, she was way out of my league! So I just said ‘OK, the worst thing she can say is no!’

“So I went to the event, but before I got a chance to ask her out I had to leave on the Friday night to do an interview. So I explained that to my friend and he said ‘Listen, if you’re still around tomorrow I’ll set you up on a blind date. You just have to show up.’ So I thought to myself ‘this sounds like a bit of fun, that could work!’ Now the date ended up being with this particular girl. I don’t know if he read my mind, but I know for a fact because I’d been speaking to someone in earshot of her about what I was doing. So she knew what I was up to! So when the blind date was organised she knew exactly who she was being set up with.”

From a confidence point of view, for the one girl I was really interested in to agree to go on a date with me was spectacular! Afterwards we met up a couple of times and it just didn’t work due to circumstances. But it was the thought in my head that this girl who I would have thought was out of my league was actually prepared to go on a date with me. That was the moment I realised ‘Hang on a minute – this is not normal. This is not my life; it’s not how it works. This is better!’ That would have been May, the following year.”

Another point that showcased his new lifestyle was a Friday night in December 2010 that started like any other, but ended very differently. “My tradition was to come home from work, get a take-away, and get into bed and watch bad movies. But this night I cooked my own dinner, which was very rare at the time. I lifted up the remote, but then I said ‘You know what? I’ll go to the gym!’ That for me was the turning point. I thought ‘whoa, I’m choosing to go and exercise when there’s other things I could be procrastinating doing!’ For me, that was the ‘Eureka’ moment. I knew I had made a big difference, a huge change in my life.”

Having gone through the chilling lows of seeing no light at the end of the tunnel, Breifne now believes that he, and everyone who has been through depression, see the World in a whole different way to anybody else. “I look now at everything as a blessing. If you look at being able to get up in the morning and walk down to the beach near where I live – that’s a blessing. To be able to get up on a bike and spend a couple of hours exercising. There are people who aren’t as fortunate as any of us. People who have achieved fantastic things, such as Ireland’s Paralympic athletes. Jason Smyth has 5 percent vision, Michael McKillop suffers from Cerebral Palsy. To look at these people, who have won World Championship medals, they are inspirational. They are some of the people I look up to the most because of what they’ve accomplished despite the set-backs they have had in life!”

As the timer on our Skype call crawled towards the hour mark, I finally asked Breifne what his plan was after the World Cycle Race. “World domination, Donagh. World domination.” he jokes. “The plan afterwards? I don’t know. A documentary is being made, and there will be videos in the build-up made that will be available on AerTV. I will also be writing a book about my experience. Both of those are available to purchase now on my indiegogo campaign page.

“As a short answer, I don’t know. I don’t know where the world’s going to take me. I could meet the love of my life in Argentina, do you know what I mean? I could be offered a job in Australia. Anything is possible. I’m going on this expedition and I really don’t know what I am going to do the day after…”

A positive man. I would like to thank Breifne very much for taking the time out to talk to me, and I wish him the very best of luck in the Race and his further endeavours.

Image: World Cycling Race – The Launch, © Dan Wedgwood / The Adventurist

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Donagh Corby
Donagh started working in the League of Ireland in 2010 at the age of 12. Since then his videos have amassed over two hundred thousand views on Youtube and he has worked with RTE, Ireland's National Broadcaster, as well as newspapers and radio stations all over the country. He has won awards for his work, including the inaugural Football Blogging Award. You can follow him on twitter @DonaghCorby_
Donagh Corby

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