Doncaster man quit smoking and conquered mental health issues to become an athlete representing Britain

Michael Barnett
Michael Barnett

Former smoker and ‘couch potato’ turned triathlete Michael Barnett is inspiring others as he prepares to represent Great Britain for the second time.

Former smoker and ‘couch potato’ turned triathlete Michael Barnett is inspiring others as he prepares to represent Great Britain for the second time.

Michael Barnett in action

Michael Barnett in action

The 37-year old Doncaster man quit his smoking habit of 30 a day, and battled mental health issues to completely turn his life around.

Michael gave up smoking and took up triathlon six years ago as a way of getting himself into shape.

What followed was an amazing journey which took him from being a smoker lounging on a sofa to a sponsored sportsman representing his country, and head coach of Doncaster Triathlon Club.

He said: “I took up triathlon in 2012 and it has changed my life.

“I was also the face of No Smoking Day in 2014, so it’s been quite a transformation!”

Michael competed for Great Britain as an age group athlete in the 2016 World Championships in Mexico, but trauma in his life saw his mental health spiral down.

He fought back, and managed to qualify for the 2018 World Championships this month on Australia’s Gold Coast, competing in the 35-39 age group.

Michael added: “I’m supported by the Talented Athlete Support Scheme, run by Doncaster Culture and Leisure Trust, allowing me to supplement my training at gyms and pools in Doncaster.

“With the variety of sessions available, I’m able to slot this around my other life commitments.”

Michael quit his habit in 2012 with the help of Yorkshire Smokefree services in Doncaster. This followed a few failed attempts, and some months as a ‘secret smoker’.

He explained: “I guess I started smoking at 16 as a way of fitting in with my friends.

“I used to be an okay swimmer as a child but gave up at about 14. I wasn’t exceptional but one of the best in my school.

“When I finally decided I was going to give up smoking in January 2012, I saw an advert somewhere about the London Triathlon. I thought. That can’t be that hard surely...

“After all it is only a bit of swimming, with biking and then a run after. I hadn’t considered the effect that 17 years of no exercise and over a decade of smoking would have on my health and fitness.

“Needless to say, the next day I signed up for the Olympic distance (1.5km swim, 40km bike and 10km run) to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. And that was it, I had no choice but to train.

“The swim fitness came back quickly and the biking improved with each ride. But running was my nemesis (it is still my least favorite discipline) but with time it got easier.

“After I had signed up, Ihad to quit smoking. In the end I went to Smokefree and they were really helpful. They prescribed me with Champix and within 10 days of taking this I had zero cravings for nicotine. It works by blocking the receptors in your brain. I can vividly remember having two inhales on a cigarette and getting zero pleasure from it and immediately threw it away.

“I’ve not had a cigarette since November 2, 2012.

“In 2016 I suffered a a setback which shook me to my core and made simply getting up for work a battle. It caused me to unravel and led to thoughts of suicide, and the need for counselling and antidepressants.

“My blog on it pulls no punches (http://smoker2triathlete.blogspot.com/2018/02/its-been-while.html), and I wrote it to help people. “When I knew I was in recovery (around February 2018), setting my qualification goal gave me purpose.

“In my spare time I am the volunteer Head Coach of Doncaster Triathlon Club which I helped form in April 2014 and I sit on the executive committee for the club. Coaching is so rewarding. I love the feeling of helping people improve.

“People who want to quit smoking must do it for the right reasons and get the support of family and friends. I found it invaluable.

“As for getting active. It doesn’t have to be anything as ambitious as a triathlon, it could just be starting to go to parkrun (a free weekly timed 5km run held every week on Saturday at 9am http://www.parkrun.org.uk/doncaster/).

The end goal could be to run round parkrun. Or even walking to the next bus stop on your commute to work so you increase activity levels. It is doing something you find enjoyable that is the key.

“Don’t limit yourself and who knows what the future can hold.

“Did I really foresee I would be travelling half way round the world with the support of a major construction company (Balfour Beatty), an international wetsuit brand (https://huubdesign.com/), and with help from the DCLT Talented Athlete Support Scheme when I decided to give up smoking in 2012. Quite simply. No!”