Rotorua woman takes on challenge of Speight's Coast to Coast

By Katie Holland

She used to keep her depression hidden but now Fiona Sandford is going the extra mile - 243km, in fact - to show it's nothing to be ashamed of.

The Rotorua District Council senior lab technician is competing in next month's Speight's Coast to Coast multisport race to raise money for LifeLine, the service that helped her recognise and cope with her depression.

Ms Sandford, 25, aims to beat 16 hours in the one-day event on February 8, which involves cycling 140km, running 36km and kayaking 67km across the South Island, including traversing the Southern Alps. Along the way she also hopes to help dispel the stigma associated with depression.

"A lot of people don't really realise what depression is and there's a lot of that Kiwi 'harden up, take a concrete pill' attitude but it's not as simple as that."

Ms Sandford said that in 2010, after years of being tired, emotional and "getting angry and crying at nothing", she did a self-test on the LifeLine website.

"It came back saying I was severely depressed and should see someone immediately."

Ms Sandford's doctor sent her to a psychologist for counselling. It was then she decided to try the Coast to Coast again, having withdrawn from a previous race. Training gave her motivation and "something to get up for in the morning".

She finished the 2011 two-day event, albeit bloodied after a bike crash 10km from the finish. But later in the year, she suffered a bad relapse of depression. Desperate, she agreed to try anti-depressants and within two weeks had a huge change in attitude and personality.

"It was as if a massive blind had lifted and there was colour in my world again."

Since then, she has kept her depression under control with medication and training and said getting her problem out in the open had been a huge relief.

"[Before] I was embarrassed to tell people, I didn't want people to think I was weak."

With the support of her family and partner she now knows there is no shame in depression, and wants to encourage others struggling with the disease to get help. "Don't think you have to go through it alone, you really don't."

To sponsor Ms Sandford, go to All money raised goes to LifeLine.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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