EX-IRISH International bowler and High-Performance coach Neil Booth has undertaken a 50 Club Sponsored Marathon in an attempt to raise £2,500 for Mental Health Charities, Mindwise and Pieta House (Dublin) while promoting awareness around mental health issues during this Covid-19 pandemic.

This total has already been surpassed and sits at an amazing £13,000.

Booth enjoyed a stellar career in bowls before his retirement from international competition in 2014.

He won a world title in 2004 and has four Commonwealth Games medals, including a gold medal in the fours at the 1998 games in Kuala Lumpur.

The Antrim native was also coach for the Northern Ireland team for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.

He has travelled the length and breadth of Ireland playing against all groups within the sport.

On one of the last legs of his tour, Booth visited Falls Bowling Club, in the heart of Andersonstown, where he played a match against club captain Kevin Brennan.

The result was immaterial on the day, with the winner being Neil’s charitable cause.

Speaking during his visit, Booth said: “Given that we are now slowly coming out of lockdown and moving towards a new normal, there could be adverse effects on some people’s mental health.

“That is the main reason I have taken on this challenge. I want to help break the stigma associated with mental health and help get people talking about their feelings or fears.

“Mental illness, in its many forms, is a horrible condition and a silent one. I know this from personal experience, and I know a lot of friends within the bowling fraternity suffer too.

“There are many people who put on a brave face in public when in reality they are in distress or despair.

“It is important that we raise awareness of this terrible illness as much as possible.”

Highlighting why the game of bowls can be beneficial in so many ways, Neil continued:

“Bowls can be a great social outlet for people with a mental illness and because it is played from the ages of 5 to 100 it is a sport for the entire population.

“Experts tell us that any form of exercise, no matter how rigorous or gentle it may be, is good for our health.

“Bowls can benefit a person’s overall fitness by moderately improving muscle strength in the arm, shoulder and leg areas.

“It can help give a person flexibility and endurance. The game gets you out into the fresh air and can help towards alleviating depression and anxiety.

“Participating in a sport is also proven to improve self-esteem and gets you out and about and meeting people. Lawn bowls helps improve social skills and being part of a team also can give you a sense of belonging.”

Speaking on Neil’s visit, Falls President Paul Anthony added: “It is a privilege to have such a wonderful ambassador for the game of bowls, choose Falls as one of his venues on this tour.

“We can all take steps to look after our mental health and to help those who are close to us.

“I would encourage anyone that is feeling in despair to speak to someone. It could be a relative, a friend or someone from the medical profession or a mental health charity.

“Help is always at hand and together we can beat the stigma associated with mental health issues.”