When you ask someone to describe Joe Stokes, the words ‘humble’, ‘selfless’ and ‘supportive’ tend to be the recurring theme. The fitness coach bases everything he does on supporting others and improving their wellbeing. So, to those who know him, it is no surprise that every year he tackles monumental physical challenges in the name of men’s mental health.
As a former Forest Green Rovers and Slimbridge footballer, fitness tests are nothing new to the 23-year-old. However, it’s questionable whether anything can prepare him for his latest effort to fundraise for Movember – he’ll be cycling and running a combined distance of 260 miles in two days.
Since 2019 Joe has been fundraising for Movember; growing a ‘Mo’ and completing physical challenges to raise awareness and money for the charity. In his first year he completed a 60km run and raised more than £1,000. Last year, a combination of Covid and an ankle injury hampered his chances of completing another fitness challenge. However, the personal trainer found a way around these obstacles and completed 16 workouts across 16 hours using his home gym setup. Using his fitness company, JS Performance, to promote the challenge meant he could stream all 16 workouts so people could watch his progress, despite being in lockdown. This mammoth effort helped him to double his fundraising to £2,250. This year’s target is reflective of this growth, sitting at a huge £3,000.
Movember raises money to fund projects that support men’s mental and physical health. They work with initiatives supporting prostate and testicular cancer, men’s mental health, and suicide prevention. Since 2003 the charity has funded more than 1,250 men’s health projects around the world.
Many people know the charity for its movement ‘Grow a Mo, Save a Bro’, which involves men growing a moustache throughout the month of November to raise money and start conversations around men’s health. More recently, the charity has promoted fundraisers that include physical challenges, which is exactly what Joe seeks to do every year for as long as he can. When asked what the charity means to him, he smiles and says “It’s helped me when I’ve been struggling. The message that they carry and the projects that they support have filled me with courage when things have been hard. I’m not only someone that supports them, but they support me. What’s more, the people they have helped over the years and knowing that what I’m doing can help others is huge for me.”
This year Joe wants to challenge himself more than ever. Since the pandemic began, he acknowledges “many more men have suffered with their mental health with all of the lockdowns we’ve been through recently.”
As a result, Joe wants his challenge to reflect the turmoil that men’s mental health continues to face: “I want to show anybody who is struggling that they can get through the tough times”.
He created the Trainline Challenge. This will see him cycle 100 miles from Swindon Train Station to London Paddington, before running 30 miles around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The following day he will complete the return journey: cycling 100 miles from London back to Swindon before running 30 miles from Swindon to Wotton-Under-Edge, the town where he grew up.
“The journey along the trainline to London is significant for me – over the summer I made journeys to London to attend fitness events which helped my personal development and aided in improving my own mental health,” said Joe.
The 30 mile run ‘represents the 30 men who take their own lives every day’.
Why complete the challenge twice over? “I just wanted it to be harder,” he laughs.
“I’m looking forward to cycling and running with like-minded people that also have a huge passion for the cause,” said Joe. “I’m fortunate that friends and family also want to be a part of this.
“I know mentally that I can get through this even if I have to walk. I’m more excited than scared to see how far I can push my mind and body”.
Ultimately for Joe it comes down to the amount of people his challenge can help, and not only through the money raised: “People start conversations about their own mental health with me because they know that I’m such a huge advocate for it. This is a huge motivator, knowing that I’m helping people talk about their struggles as well as fundraising for Movember”.
To donate visit: https://uk.movember.com/mospace/14162029