Wheely Lee’s wheelchair challenge for mental health charity
Lee, 48, who hails from South Shields but moved to Penshaw, Sunderland, in 1999, lost the use of the entire right side of his body after suffering a series of strokes 13 years ago. Yet despite this, he thinks he could be the first person to complete three of the region’s biggest sporting events in a wheelchair.
Following the Sunderland City Half Marathon which he finished in May, on 7 July Lee will take on the Great North 10K in Gateshead. He will complete the hat trick in September, with the world’s largest half marathon, the Great North Run, all to raise money for mental health charity Mind.
Having experienced mental health issues for much of his life, Lee was eventually diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder four years ago. Last year a relative, David Bennett of Shiney Row, passed away, spurring Lee on to fundraise for the charity in his memory.
“I wanted to challenge myself to raise some money for Mind,” Lee said. “I’ve suffered from mental health issues for over 30 years and I’ve used Mind’s services over the last six years on a regular basis.
“Last year we lost a family member to mental health issues, and that was the catalyst to do the challenge.”
He continued: “I came up with the idea to do the Great North Run, and then the Sunderland half marathon came into it and then it became the Tyne and Wear challenge.”
For Lee, the challenge is even more poignant, as the Great North Run is likely be the last event of its kind he is able to take part in.
Due to the deterioration of the vertebrae in his spine, as soon as it’s complete, he is scheduled to undergo an operation which will leave him with restricted mobility and reliant on the use of an electric wheelchair.
It is set to be an emotional day, as his family - including his mum, Jean Williamson, the Mayoress of South Tyneside - are there to cheer him over the finish line.
“It’s going to have all the emotions of knowing that the Great North Run is going to be the last time I do something like that,” he said. “Plus the fact that David’s mum and the family are going to be there at the finish line, all wearing Team David T-shirts.”
This news inspired Lee’s old school friend, Steve Thompson, to embark on a fundraising mission of his own. Steve is hoping to raise £3,000 to fund Lee’s new wheelchair, by cycling the equivalent of the distance from his current home in Hemer, Germany, to his home town of South Shields.
The two men met when they lived in Marsden, South Shields, and attended the former Redwell Comprehensive school together, before being reunited on Facebook in 2012.
At the end of August, Steve will cycle the 1,081km in 10 days, before flying over to the UK to complete the Great North Run alongside Lee, the following day.
The aim is to present Lee with a brand new mobility scooter when he crosses the finish line on Sunday, September 8.
Any money left over will be split between two charities, the Horsley Hill Boxing Club and the Chloe and Liam Together Forever foundation.
“I recently found out that Lee needs another operation and his mobility scooter needs renewing,” said Steve. “It’s going to be hard work but it will be worth it if we can get the money for his chair.”
Steve, who has experienced his own health issues in recent years, including depression, now wants to “give something back to the community” he grew up in. He added: “It doesn’t matter how bad things are, there is always somebody worse off.”
“It’s humbling, because nobody has ever done that type of thing for me before,” said Lee. “I think Steve’s amazing for doing what he’s doing. Thanks just isn’t enough.”
You can sponsor Lee and donate to Mind at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LeeWilliamson7
Help fund Lee’s new wheels by sponsoring Steve at https://www.gofundme.com/cos-ican