Jo Ashcroft

Our Work / Jo Ashcroft

After shuffling her way around the Auckland Marathon in 2014, Jo Ashcroft vowed that three marathons in one lifetime was enough.

The Aucklander instead decided to stick to half marathons and set herself a challenge, like doing 12 in a year.

"Last year I managed to raise $660 for the Mental Health Foundation from some supportive friends. After handing over the money, I was asked whether I would consider being a Gold Runner for them. They had to ask me a couple of times but by then the idea of a challenge was in my head. How could I resist? Plus shuffling regular half marathons will help with training, right?"

In 2014, Jo ran 12 events culminating in the Auckland Marathon on November 3. These included the Lydiard half, the Waitakere Half, the North Shore Half (old favourites) as well as a few new courses, like around the Auckland Domain and 16km of the Hilary Trail.

Wearing a label with pride

To those who don’t know her, Jo is the “bipolar lady” of Titirangi, Auckland. It’s a label she doesn’t mind owning, in fact it’s one she wears with pride.

“My car licence plate is ‘BIPOLR,” she smiles. “It was my 40th birthday present and I absolutely love it. I get so many comments and compliments about it. I did it to get it out there because, if someone like me can admit I have bipolar, anyone can.”

Jo is upfront about her diagnosis of bipolar II and has had little personal experience of the stigma and discrimination that can be associated with mental illness.

“I’m really open about my condition – you have to be when it’s written on your car! Nobody has ever been shocked and said ‘I don’t want to talk to you anymore’.

“Generally people get to know me before they get to know the condition.”

Diagnosis makes sense

For the mum-of-two, who emigrated from England to New Zealand with her family in 2007, a definitive diagnosis was a long time coming.

“I had 20 years of really not understanding the way I acted some days, despite being married to a psychologist,” she says. “Basically, I’d had doctors prescribe me sleeping tablets, vitamin B and things for PMT.”

Reading the book The Unquiet Mind, which tells of a woman’s experience of bipolar disorder, was a revelation for Jo, who immediately recognised the illness in herself, as well as her father.

“I read the book and went ‘that’s us, that’s my dad’. I put the book on my doctor’s desk and said, ‘that’s me’. He said, ‘you’re going to be addressing stigma for the rest of your life’, but I said I didn’t care. I wanted a label and to know why I acted the way I was acting’.”

Following her diagnosis, the trained primary school teacher went straight to her head teacher.

“I told her and she said, ‘so what’? She was incredibly supportive. She said, ‘if you have the best people around you, you look after them’.”

A marathon a bit like the mental health challenge

"It would be great if everyone else could see that having a mental illness isn’t such a big deal. Yes, I have a mental illness, but I’m still functioning, happy and successful.”

She says running a marathon is a bit like working through a mental health challenge.

“The 35km mark onwards is almost like the depths of depression. You just have to take it one step at a time. You have to keep going and know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

In 2014, Jo raised $1,038.20 for the MHF. Thanks Jo and well done!! Find out how you can be a Gold Runner in 2015.