Three years on from recognising his gambling addiction, Antony Smith can look forward to 2018 thanks to help with his finances and running.
Antony, 28, a web designer, had already run up gambling debts approaching £36,000 when a bad result in an obscure Mexican league football match plunged him into despair as another £600 was lost and he was in serious trouble.
With payday-loan companies bearing down on him, his credit cards at their limit and his family refusing to lend him more money, his last chance of winning enough to keep them temporarily at bay had vanished.
“When my Mexican bet failed, I knew I didn’t have enough money to pay off my creditors and had nowhere else to turn,” the Ellesmere Port resident told Runners World.
“I owed £3,200 that needed repaying by the end of the week alone.”
Antony talked himself out of suicide, recalling it had all begun so casually with games of poker for loose change in the sixth form common room.
“In my late teens my mates and I would spend Saturday afternoons in the pub watching football and betting on the results,” he said. “Back then I enjoyed the buzz and would bet on any sport.”
At university easy access to student loans, overdrafts and grants funded his gambling along with borrowing from family and a part-time job.
Like many habitual gamblers he enjoyed the occasional good day but such days were rare.
After the Mexican match Antony realised he needed help. The next day he told his boss about his gambling addiction. Fortunately his employer supported him, lending him enough to satisfy the loan companies and setting up a debt-management plan to help him pay back everything he owed.
“I had counselling and by then I properly wanted to quit,” he explains.
Quitting left a large void to fill in his life and having put on weight while sitting around betting all day and with no money he realised running might be the answer.
“My first run was two miles from work to home. I was very slow and it left me exhausted. It felt truly horrific but I knew I wanted to do it again,” he said.
Antony began running regularly, often with workmates at lunchtime and soon shed weight giving him the confidence to enter his first race, the Farndon 10K, in October 2015.
The following May, Antony, now a member of Ellesmere Port RC, ran the Chester Half Marathon and hopes to have run 1,000 miles by the end of 2017 fundraising for the charity MIND.
He plans to run his first full marathon in 2018 and to achieve another goal, his last debt payment, in January.
Antony runs for his sister, Keira, who suffers from borderline personality disorder (BPD). “I realised quite quickly that I wanted to use my running, something that had changed my life and given me so much, to help and support others,” he said.
“My sister Keira is one of the strongest and most inspirational people I have ever met. She suffers with BPD and I have seen first-hand the devastating effect this condition has had on my sister, her family and her life.
“Despite this she has not only been discharged from mental health services but now works as a service user consultant facilitating workshops for professionals and actively using her personal experiences to support those who suffer with mental health issues.”
Antony hopes he’s left gambling firmly in his past. “I now understand that I had an illness and was addicted, I wasn’t well and that’s why it got so out of hand.
“I’m ashamed of the lies and the broken promises but I’m proud that I have turned my life around by facing my problems.”
People can follow Antony’s 1,000 challenge on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #1000MilesForMind.
“If you’re able and are willing to contribute financially to my cause, I would be most grateful,” he says.