AN UPPERMILL woman is walking, hiking and running along America’s fabled Route 66 practically without stepping outside the Saddleworth boundary.
So far Heidi Flack has ticked off Chicago, Springfield, St Louis and Joplin on her 2,448 miles crossing of the ‘Mother Road’.
Heidi still has around three-quarters to complete before she reaches journey’s end in Santa Monica, California.
But this virtual marathon challenge is not about Heidi ‘getting her kicks on Route 66’ as the legendary song suggests.
This year-long project is designed to boost awareness of mental health issues and to raise funds for Tameside, Oldham and Glossop Mind.
An executive director for First Choice Homes Oldham, Heidi, 51, moved to Saddleworth in January 2020.
She did so not knowing anyone in the area and with her family 200 miles away in Suffolk. Within two months Heidi’s isolation increased with the first national lockdown.
“It was horrendous because I hadn’t really had chance to make friends or meet people,” she explained. “I felt isolated and alone.
“I was working full-time but from home. So that again is incredibly hard. If you are not careful you don’t see anyone for days.”
Heidi’s feelings of loneliness and negativity began to change after discovering the story on social media of Army veteran Darren Thomas.
The father of four suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and anxiety but now campaigns for better mental health and is a wellbeing campaigner with a striking hashtag #shareyourshit
“The stigma around mental health is horrendous,” added Heidi. “People won’t talk about it but by using that hashtag it helps people to think ‘this is quite normal to talk about’.
“I didn’t realise before talking to Darren how many people are committing suicide.“They feel there is no other way and people are frightened to say anything because of the stigma.
“But it is an illness and usually related to a mental in balance in the brain. It is so sad.
“My job is involved with construction and I have a lot of men working for me.
“They don’t talk so even though I am female I am trying to reach out to males as well.
“So, it has mushroomed from me needing help and support to suddenly meeting all these people and trying to help them.”
Heidi received free counselling through Mind’s ‘talking therapies’ and is now working with Oldham’s Mental Health Football group to lead a mental health walking group.
Having completed the Three Peaks Challenge last year and with the moors on her doorstep, Heidi hit upon the Route 66 adventure through the Conqueror virtual challenges.
She had previously ticked off the 480 miles Camino de Santiago in Spain but felt she wanted the ultimate challenge.
“Darren told me I needed to focus on something that I would enjoy doing. This was something I always wanted to do and besides I used to own a Ford Mustang!
“I originally thought I could do it in about six months but when you work it is not quite so easy.
“However, I try to get out every day and I am sure it is going to be an incredible life-changing experience.
“I actually used to be scared to walk alone because of anxiety but I am not anymore.
“It has helped me realise how strong I am. I am not frightened anymore.
“We don’t have hills where I am from; we have carrots, celery and flat fenlands.
“But this is my home now. I have made friends in the most challenging and awful circumstances.
“I realise not every person wants to or is able to exercise. But if you are struggling then just reach out.”
Heidi hopes to raise £1,000 for Mind. To donate visit https://tinyurl.com/y3r74yth