Meningitis Now Believe & Achieve B&A staff member Becky Hartwell

The benefits of sport and fitness after meningitis

Becky Hartwell | 16th February 2022

Believe & Achieve, our programme for young people affected by meningitis to support them to reach their goals, is holding a Fitness Day on Sunday 10 April at the Chill Factore in Trafford Park, Manchester

The benefits of sport and fitness after meningitis with Believe & Achieve

The day will provide an opportunity to learn from others who have been affected by meningitis whilst having fun and facing new challenges. It’s a free event and you can find out more and register to attend here.

Here, in advance of the day and to whet your appetite, Ollie, who had meningitis when he was 16 weeks old and is now 22, tells us why sport and fitness are important in his life.

Why did you get into sport?

My sports journey started from a young age walking up mountains, gorge walking (walking up waterfalls), bike riding etc. on family holidays. Then, when I attended school, I really enjoyed PE lessons, where I played a whole range of sports from hockey and rugby to cross country running. I also attempted to join a few school teams and always signed up for house competitions. 

How does sport and exercise help your mental health? Are there other benefits of it for you?

I have found sport and exercise has helped my mental health a lot as it allows me to better myself physically and mentally. The gym and football allow me to experience a new environment while making friends with the same passion as me. Another benefit of exercise for me is that the only challenge I face is me vs me. 

Does fatigue or other after-effects make exercise and sport difficult for you?

Overall, I have no major difficulties when it comes to exercising with my fatigue and after-effects. The only barrier to exercise I have found is at times I am a bit hesitant to head the ball in football due to my acquired brain injury (ABI)

How did you find out what sport works well for you?

I found sport worked for me when I went through a tough stage in my life, and I had the choice of looking at it two ways. One way was to sit in my room and dwell on everything that happened, no matter if it was a small factor or a big factor. The other way was to use it to make myself a better person. I started going to the gym and working out two or three times a week for several hours at a time by myself with nothing but my water bottle and my headphones to drown out any other sounds around me. 

When I started working out, I was at Bedfordshire University studying Sport and PE, where I learnt about bones and muscles. I completed research and created workout plans that I could follow while in the gym. I continue to adapt these, whether changing an exercise or adding a new one in. Also, at the time, I had a friend who was a personal trainer at my gym. I asked him for some help and advice and that really helped me. At present I still use my updated workout plans in the gym and for a few months now have started tracking how many sets and reps I have completed on each exercise. 

What has been your biggest challenge?

I think one of my biggest challenges was when I was at school. I wanted to get involved in as many sports teams as possible but, 90% of the time the ‘popular kids’ who were better than me at sport didn’t let me join in at breaks or lunches. They were also at the sports clubs so I couldn’t enjoy what I loved doing, which was playing sport, because I’d be mocked or shouted out for doing one thing wrong or not giving them the ball. 

What has been your proudest moment?

One proud moment was persevering with sports after the experience I had at school as now I’m really enjoying it. Another proud moment is helping my friends start going to the gym because they can see the benefits and positive effects it has. More recently I have spoken to my partner, and she wants to start going to the gym but doesn’t feel comfortable to go alone. So, I’ve said I’ll go with her and help her out. It gives me a gym partner too.

What are your exercise/sport goals for the future?

My goals are to become a PE teacher in a secondary school and to continue playing football and going to the gym. I want to become a PE teacher because I want to help students within a school setting who find the school curriculum in the classroom difficult, and they can use sport as an escape while also learning new sports or developing current sporting knowledge. 

Have you had moments of low motivation and low determination? How did you conquer these?

I have experienced low motivation at times within my sporting and fitness career. This includes not wanting to go to the gym after work as I was tired from the day. The way I overcame this was to have my gym gear in the car with me so I can drive straight to the gym when I finish work. Otherwise as soon as I get home I won’t want to go back out again. 

Do you have advice for anyone else who wants to get into exercise/fitness but doesn’t know where to start?

I would recommend they choose an activity or sport they enjoy, like the gym. Then I would see if any friends or family are currently doing that activity or sport or are also looking at start. They could go with their individual/small group for a few sessions or weeks until they feel comfortable to start attending by themselves.

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