A Portrush man speaks about his Guinness World Record attempt in the London Marathon and the heartbreaking reason behind his ‘Iron Man’ mission

Andy and Wilma
Andy and Wilma

So, have you heard the one about the Portrush man who is planning to create a new Guinness World Record by running the London Marathon while carrying an iron in one hand and a full size ironing board in the other? Oh yes, and he has a broken back into the bargain!

It’s not a joke, it’s the task being taken on by ‘Iron Man’ Andy Farrer in April to raise money for a charity for children with visual impairments and also to highlight a subject so painfully close to his heart - suicide awareness.

Andy with his customised ironing board and mascot Gillard

Andy with his customised ironing board and mascot Gillard

Andy lost his partner Wilma Patton-Brolly to suicide in November 2016 and since then has dedicated himself to talking openly about mental health issues and encouraging others not to feel ashamed if they are struggling.

“Someone taking their own life is like throwing a pebble into a millpond, there are ripples and after-effects for ages,” he said.

“It was my privilege to have known Wilma, we had just 16 months together but what we packed into that time was fantastic. She was amazing, so kind, never judged anyone. I called her ‘Giggles’ because she was always smiling and laughing. We met on a blind date in Portrush and we ‘just knew’ then.

“She was the most fantastic mum to her two children and she worked in Happy Days Playgroup in Ballymoney. They just adored her there.

Andy with his customised ironing board and mascot Gillard.

Andy with his customised ironing board and mascot Gillard.

“The worst thing is that we just never saw it coming. People who take their own lives think the world will be better off without them - it isn’t.

“I knew Wilma had slight depression but I honestly never saw it coming. Her very close friends said that they had never seen her as happy.

“I just want to raise awareness, to say that there is nothing to be ashamed of if you are depressed or struggling. Just pick up the phone - to anyone, to the Samaritans, absolutely anyone. Don’t put the mask on and hide behind it. And the rest of us have to grow a set of ears and listen to people.”

Andy, who has run half and full marathons in the past, is now training for the London event to raise funds for VICTA (Visually Impaired Children Taking Action) and the Coleraine branch of the Samaritans.

Andy and Wilma.

Andy and Wilma.

“I ran the Belfast Marathon with the Railway Arms in Coleraine where I used to work. My training consisted of turning up on the day, opening a bottle of beer, drinking it and running the relay,” laughed Andy who works in Sainsbury’s in Coleraine.

“I ran my first full marathon in 2010 but I broke my spine five years ago and was advised against running but I’ve decided to take on this challenge as a sort of tribute to Wilma and the great fun we had together - that’s what I miss the most, the fun.

“We laughed so much at this idea of extreme ironing and once, we trekked to the top of the Slieve Donard in Newcastle with me dressed as a scuba diver, carrying an ironing board. We even played golf on the summit. Half way up the mountain, a woman asked me was there electricity at the top? It was just such fun.

“That’s how I got the idea for the ‘Iron Man’ Guinness World Record attempt on April 22. Minky have designed me a special ironing board and Morphy Richards have provided the iron. I am also tweeting Robert Downey Junior who played Iron Man in the hope that he will give me a retweet.

“If that happened, it would be fantastic as it would really raise the profile of the record attempt and the charities.”

Andy is a seasoned charity fundraiser - hosting three barbecues a year at his home and spending 24 hours on a spin cycle outside Sainsbury’s to raise funds for Comic Relief. Yet he is under no illusion of the enormity of what lies ahead.

“To set the World Record, I have to do each mile in nine minutes, 43 seconds. This week, I clocked up eight miles in one hour, fifteen minutes, which some elite runners tell me is pretty good. I just have to keep increasing my distance over the next nine weeks and then just eat for the last week,” laughed Andy.

“I know it’s going to hurt. The iron or the ironing board can’t be attached to me. I have to carry them so I know my hands will cramp up.

“There are days I can’t bend down because of the pain in my back and here I am, doing the London Marathon with a broken back, carrying an iron and ironing board. I can just hear Wilma having a good laugh,” he smiled.

To donate to Andy’s charities, check out Virgin Money Giving and search for Andy Farrer.