Post 19 My Most Memorable Medical Moment


Jimmy was 28 years old when I first met him.   He was good looking, 5 feet 10 inches tall, slightly built, a keen football fan but also a violent criminal with severe mental health problems.   Arrested, tried and found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm, he received a custodial sentence.   Later he was referred to a secure mental health unit to avoid risk to the public while attempts were made to treat his aggressive behaviour. I was tasked with working with him and during one of our sessions I asked what he would most like to do?
His reply surprised me.   “Run a marathon,” he said.

“Yes, that’s possible,” I replied, “but I would have to come with you while you trained.”
Jimmy was really excited that his dream was possible.

I suggested that instead of a marathon, a local 10 kilometre run would be an acceptable first step.   Jimmy agreed and soon training started in earnest.   It was hoped that sport and exercise would enable him to channel his aggression in a positive way,


His enthusiasm to run a marathon was set as his specific goal and it formed a major role in his rehabilitation.  Whatever training I asked him to do, I did as well, often running up the ‘Hill of Happiness’.   We called it the Hill of Happiness as we were always happy to get to the top!   Up and down involved a 2 kilometre run and a climb of 350ft.

 We trained together come rain, wind or shine and six months later we ran a 10k race for ‘Dreams’ his chosen charity.   This is a charity which helps children with serious and life-limiting conditions to fulfil a dream.   We crossed the finish line, side by side, in just under 1 hour.  Jimmy’s consultant allowed us to have a celebratory pint in the local pub afterwards. That moment was great but it was just a foretaste of what was to come.    Jimmy had earned the right to sit in the sun in the pub garden and feel the precious gift we all take for granted; to be in control of your own life and have people who believe in you.

 With his new found confidence Jimmy, once feared for his aggression, started to play football for 'Saints', our mental health team.   The training we had already done together helped with our unique bond and he knew I would be displeased with any violent conduct on the pitch.  

People thought he would be sent off in his first match but in the two seasons he played, he didn’t pick up a single yellow card for a bad tackle, foul or for verbal abuse.   On one occasion we played a high profile cup game at the local stadium.   Afterwards the referee reported to FA headquarters that our mental health team had put the opposition to shame and later we received a letter from the FA congratulating us on our respectful and honest play.


Jimmy went on to obtain ‘A’ level success in English and Maths.   He got married and completed a 3 year degree course in social work and social care.

 But the moment that stood out and will stay with me for the rest of my life was Jimmy’s farewell game, played at the local stadium before he went to university.   He brought his wife and parents along to watch him play.  It was a friendly game of the 'Saints' team, their friends and supporters.   We played on opposite sides and as the final whistle approached the score was three goals each.  Then his team was awarded a corner.   The ball came across and Jimmy soared in the air and headed the winner.   As he rushed to celebrate with his team mates, he looked over to the crowd and waved to his family before running back to restart the game.


That was my moment.   Seconds earlier we had competed against each other as we jumped together; he attempting to score, me trying to stop him.   He won that little tussle and his team won the match.   Whilst my team mates showed their disappointment at losing, I watched him as he celebrated.  I will never forget the look of joy on his face when he scored and the way he acknowledged his family.

It had been a long, hard and at times painful struggle for him to win through to that moment.   People had doubted him;  they’d said he would fail and yet there he was; a changed person.   This is what the NHS did for this individual and, for me; it was the moment that made everything worthwhile.

I often wonder who helped who at the end of our time together.  To be honest we both helped each other and did things  neither would  have dreamed possible.   From an initial meeting trying to find common ground, we ended up running 10k, winning the local Knock Out Cup and finally playing and beating Manchester United’s mental health team in Manchester in front of Wayne Rooney. 


 This story was submitted by Paul Willis who worked for 15 years in the Mental Health Service.  ‘Jimmy’ is a pseudonym. He does not feature in the images used to illustrate this story.

 Service user Quotes 

 “Having a focus for the future and being a part of a team are really beneficial to me.”
“Feeling keen to get up and going early in the morning, is giving me a real focus and renewed confidence.”

“You made my dreams come true, Legend!!!!"

“My son has a real focus now and it helps immensely with his mental illness; the benefits are plain for all to see.”
 Quotation for the day

To cure the mind’s wrong bias, spleen
Some recommend the bowling green,
Some hilly walks, all, exercise!
Matthew Green 1696 - 1737


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