When she was just 17 years old, Zoe Travis lost her big brother Dominic to suicide after he had battled with his mental health for many years.
Growing up, Zoe and her brother were what could only be described as typical siblings. They fought, they bickered, they laughed, and they supported one another in their own ways. With only a year between them in age, Zoe described Dominic as her “other half”, though jokes he was only ever nice to her when she needed cheering up – which isn’t an unfamiliar story for most brothers and sisters.
In the month leading up to his death in 2015, Zoe remembers visiting Dominic with her mum Diane to celebrate their mum’s birthday together.
“One of the last times I seen him was on my mum’s birthday, and you know because we were teenagers, we didn’t often get on with each other,” Zoe says. “He rarely did anything nice for me, well unless I was upset, then he’d always be there for me! But this day, he’d made my mum a birthday card – which is now framed at home – and on it he’d drawn a picture of him, my mum and me with our hairstyles the way we used to style them and everything – he was really good at art. And above our heads on the drawing, he’d wrote ‘Mum, the greatest of all’, and ‘annoying yet brilliant’ above me, which showed just how much he cared and what he secretly thought.”
Just a few weeks following their visit, Zoe and Diane received the news they had feared when they were informed Dominic has taken his life.
“I think about the last time I saw him a lot, because I was the last person to ever see my brother in my family,” Zoe shares. “I hold onto that. We were smiling at each other, and not killing each other like usual! He was being really kind and I’ll always remember that.”
Following her brother’s passing, Zoe struggled with a sense numbness for some time. Similarly, to many people who lose a loved one or experience grief, Zoe found it hard to maintain relationships with the people around her while she faced the challenges of losing Dominic. She felt like no one around her understood how she was feeling or what she was going through. She tried counselling and speaking openly about Dominic, but at that time felt nothing was helping.
In 2017, as a way to channel her grief and do something to honour her brother, Zoe decided to pick up her first pair of running shoes – despite having never previously done much long distance running – and ran her first 10km; raising money for mental health and suicide prevention charities in Dominic’s name. Through doing this, it enabled Zoe to feel like she was doing something positive, not only for her brother, but for the charities and organisations that work tirelessly to help those who struggle like Dominic did. It was here Zoe developed the bug, not only for the sense of challenge and accomplishment running provided, but for the way she could use this as a way keep her brother’s memory alive.
Two years and a few 10kms later, in 2019 Zoe decided she wanted to do more to boost her fundraising and awareness efforts, so not only did she sign up for a 10k and a half marathon, but she committed herself to an additional full marathon as well – all within a nine-month time frame.
“I wanted to push myself harder, so I asked myself ‘what’s bigger than a 10k that people might want to give me money for?’, that’s when I thought I’d challenge myself to do a half marathon and a marathon within nine months of the Great Manchester Run 10k,” Zoe says.
Choosing to dedicate these challenges to PAPYRUS, Zoe used this an opportunity to shine light on suicide prevention and encourage people – both in the running community and externally – to talk openly about their mental health and thoughts of suicide. Since her first marathon, Zoe has refused to slow down her fundraising efforts, and says she continues to run as her brother now lives through her, and it’s important to her that she keeps his memory alive.
Now, Zoe is gearing up for her next 26.2 miles in this year’s London Marathon in aid of PAPYRUS – marking her third marathon after another successful ballot placement in the 2021 event. Zoe’s dedication to running and fundraising has not only helped her keep her brother’s memory alive, but it has also had a positive impact on her mental health. She says that training for these events has been a source of healing and has helped her cope with the pain of losing her brother.
“Without running, it really affects me. People that don’t run, don’t really get it,” Zoe explains. “They don’t understand why I do it, but it helps me with my grief. As well my own mental health, I’m doing it for him. He lives in me now; he can’t express himself anymore, so I’m always doing everything for me and him.
“I still feel like I’ve lost the other half of me, and my heart is still shattered. But by doing this, I know my brother would be proud of me – he probably thinks I’m crazy, but I know he’d be proud. I’ll continue to keep pushing, even after the marathon, because I couldn’t wish the pain and suffering me and my mum have felt upon anyone, and I really want to help prevent other families and friends from going through the same thing.”
Zoe’s journey has been a remarkable one. From convincing herself she would never be capable of running a 10km race, to now approaching her third marathon. Her story is a reminder of the importance of supporting those who have lost loved ones to suicide and the power of turning grief into something positive. She is a true inspiration and a shining example of how one person can make a difference in the world.