Local Hero – Damian Gibson
Since the very beginning, the Great North Run has been a celebration of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
This year, the event is celebrating everyday heroes, people who give back to their communities and inspire those around them with their dedication and perseverance.
Damian Gibson is the lead trainer for the Home Run Project, a new and exciting programme that has transformed the lives of over 20 people from across Calderdale, Yorkshire.
The Home Run project is a running group created to support people with issues associated with homelessness including depression, drug and alcohol addiction and those seeking asylum.
These people have been given the opportunity to train once a week for the last year with Damian, with the end goal of taking part in the Simplyhealth Great North Run on Sunday 9 September.
Damian, an ex-professional Rugby League player with Leeds Rhinos turned personal trainer from Halifax, was approached to get involved with the Home Run project by SmartMove and Calderdale College, where his business is based.
Since last April, Damian has volunteered his time to be a coach and mentor for the group who all come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The project has given them a new lease of life by allowing them to meet new people, get involved in sport and to make the goal of completing a half marathon a reality.
Many of the group have overcome alcohol and drug addiction, depression and stress thanks to being united by the Home Run Project.
“Working alongside the group and seeing how far they have come, I am so happy that it is an opportunity I got involved with as it has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had,” said Damian, 43.
“Turning up week in week out, in rain, hail or shine to prepare for such an event has given the group a sense of belonging and accomplishment.
“I really enjoyed getting to know the group and creating strong friendships. These guys have been through such difficult times in their lives and it’s heart-breaking to hear their stories.
“To look at them now and knowing the obstacles they have had to overcome shows just how much they’ve achieved. Most of them now run three times a week and are involved with local running clubs.
“I have watched them make huge improvements in their fitness levels while at the same time growing in confidence and self-belief, which is the most important factor.
“I am extremely thankful to everyone involved and I’m so proud of all the runners. It will be emotional seeing these guys cross the finish line as we know how long and hard we have worked. It’s a family now.”
Damian is passionate about ensuring that the group continues to stay united following the half marathon and hopes to be able to take them onto complete further challenges in the future.
Kevin Shiels was isolated as a recovering addict and joined the Home Run project with his partner Fiona.
Thanks to Home Run, he has a new-found confidence and now attends regular parkruns as well as training sessions with Halifax Harriers.
“I feel like I have known this group for years. I had never run before in my life and our progress made us want to come back week after week,” said Kevin.
“Before, I was judged based on my past but now people look at me and see a runner. The reality of my background is there is a lot of stigma attached to addiction and it used to put up barriers.
“People like Damian have accepted me for who I am from the very beginning. He is awesome at what he does and has taught me to believe in myself. I have a lot of respect for him, everything I am doing at the minute is because of him.”
Fiona struggled with depression and anxiety and has seen her confidence grow over the last year. She is now part of an online running community and even managed to keep up her training while she was pregnant. Weeks after having their baby, she was back running.
“We are both so proud of how far we have come. The project has brought me back to life,” she said.
“The social side of things has helped me greatly. We’re like one big family because we are having so much fun while getting fit has kept me going.
“I am looking forward to running the Simplyhealth Great North Run with the group and crossing the finish line with Kevin. Emotions will be very high.”
Hussaim Hadi sought asylum in the UK from Yemen and ended up homeless, suffering from depression, stress and anxiety.
He relied on the use of medication to help him sleep and to combat his mental health. A year later he is medication free and has found a love for running.
“At first, running was hard for me, there have been times when I did not know if I would be able to carry on but the team have pushed and encouraged me,” said Hussaim.
“Physically I feel in good shape, mentally I no longer rely on medication. I feel healthy and happy which is something I have not felt for some time.
“Our coach has been amazing, I have been really surprised by my progress.”
Home Run was established when the ABS Foundation, charity arm of local print provider ABS UK, teamed up with Calderdale Smart Move, a charity that supports homeless and vulnerably housed people across the region, to support something new in the area.
“The benefits that Damian and the team have brought these people are huge,” said Chris Walker, chief executive of Calderdale SmartMove.”
“There is a perception of homelessness and it’s not necessarily an accurate one. It’s not always their choice. There are multiple, complex issues. Home Run has helped people pick up the pieces and raise awareness of the real people who we work with.”
“We’ve all been surprised by seeing how valuable the project has become to the participants,” said David Lees, director at ABS UK.
“Running is a structured discipline that gives a feeling of accomplishment when achieved and we hope these benefits will translate into the participants daily life and they can start to build the future they want by believing in themselves.”
More information about the Home Run Project can be found here.
Simplyhealth Great North Run is live on BBC One on Sunday 9 September, 09:30-13:30. For more information on the Simplyhealth Great North Run, visit: Greatrun.org/North