When Abbi Naylor was just 15 she didn’t think she would reach her 30th birthday.
The expedition leader from Lee-on-the-Solent had a tough childhood which led to a downward spiral, culminating in an attempt to take her own life.
But she turned things around and to mark her 30th birthday she raised more than £23,000 for a youth charity by taking on 30 endurance challenges in a year.
But what led her to take on such a challenging task?
‘I had a very difficult upbringing. I had mental health issues from when I was about 14 that lasted until I was 16 or 17,’ says Abbi.
‘I never saw my dad and even though I was close to my siblings they are older than me and left home when I was only a toddler.
‘My mum and I are extremely close and she brought me up as a single parent until I was a teenager. We went through a lot together.
‘When I was five, my mum found a nice man that made her feel wanted and special and soon he moved into our world of two.
‘But this man was abusive, and from the age of five until 11 he emotionally and physically assaulted me.
‘When the events came to light it was devastating, particularly for my best friend – my mum. From the age of 11, he was gone.
‘I had an eating disorder that lasted about three years and I had depression alongside that. I got over that with a lot of help from a lot of people. It was awful at the time. I didn’t know if I was going to make it through that. I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. It was a downward spiral at that point.’
Abbi developed bulimia which left her so malnourished her hair fell out and she was hospitalised. At 15 she attempted to take her own life.
‘That was a cry for help,’ she says.
‘I knew that I wanted to get better but I just didn’t know how to do it.’
Abbi got some help and went on to achieve 12 GCSE’s.
Through counselling and lots of support, Abbi moved on and studied conservation at Aberystwyth University.
Abbi, who lives with her husband Will, who is in the army, is now an expedition leader taking groups on exciting challenges all over the world – including hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest.
Every summer she leads a month-long youth group expedition.
‘What I have been through has helped me to help other young people in many ways,’ says Abbi.
‘I do love my job. It means I am away a lot and it’s quite intense but we do try and balance it.’
And it was through that work that she was inspired to take on 30 challenges to mark her 30th year. ‘When I was younger, exercise helped me in a very positive way,’ she adds.
‘For me, being outside and doing exercise is very positive. I knew I wanted to do something to celebrate getting to 30 because at one point I didn’t think I would. I wanted to try and raise money for a charity that was doing something to help people like me.’
Abbi chose the youth mental health charity Young Minds.
It averaged at two-and-a-half challenges a month and included running, cycling, climbing and swimming and there were a variety of different distances in different locations across different countries.
There was the London to Paris bike ride, the Snowman triathlon in Northern Wales and an Ironman event in Barcelona.
She also took on a 100-mile run through the Himalayas.
Abbi began on New Year’s Day 2018 with the Box Hill Knacker Cracker – a challenging 10k run up and down Box Hill in Surrey.
She finished an event she organised herself – a triathlon which finished at Hampton Court Palace, greeted by friends and family who had champagne at the ready.
So what was Abbi’s most enjoyable event? She says it was the Robin Hood 100 – 100 miles of non-stop running, which took 20 hours to complete.
‘It was incredible,’ she recalls.
‘I have always loved long-distance running. It’s amazing to know that your body can push itself to extreme levels. Your mind wanders off into a different world. In the end, it’s not your body doing it, it’s your mind. That will help you finish. I find that fascinating.’
And it was The Nuts Challenge, a 14km obstacle race in Surrey, that was her least favourite. It fell during the Beast from the East snow storm and left Abbi clambering over ice and snow-covered obstacles.
She says: ‘We were going through eight inch ice. I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet. I cried more than I have ever cried in my life. I don’t know how I got round.’
But when Abbi reached New Year’s Eve and finished her challenge, having raised £23,000 for Young Minds, she was totally overwhelmed.
‘There was a huge lump in my throat,’ she says.
‘I couldn’t believe I had done it. It was unbelievable that I had achieved it. I still don’t think it has sunk in. There was an overwhelming sense of achievement and pride.
‘I’m the one who did the events but there was a whole host of people who supported and motivated me. It was an incredible team achievement.’
And why did Abbi choose to support Young Minds?
‘It’s relevant to what I was going through. My mum was such a core part of my recovery. So when I found out that the charity had a parents’ helpline, I wanted to find out more.
‘It’s an incredible charity centred around young people. I have been following the charity’s progress for a long time. I wish it was around when I wasn’t very well.
‘It would have really helped my mum. She was the backbone for me getting better. It must have been so difficult for her.
‘It’s hugely important that people feel they are able to talk about their mental health. It’s key.
‘It’s great that people are talking about it more but hopefully it doesn’t diminish people that have severe mental health issues.
‘We can all have low mental health but having an illness is very different.
‘We need to be able to distinguish between the two.’
Abbi is organising a charity ball to give a final boost to her campaign. The event takes place on Saturday, March 30, at the Spinnaker Tower.
All are welcome to join her to celebrate her achievements and raise money for a good cause.
n To find out more go to buytickets.at/thirty4thirty.
To make a donation, visit justgiving.com/fundraising/abbisthirty4thirty.
To find out more about Young Minds go to youngminds.org.uk