Man who challenged homophobia by running 401 marathons honoured at SPOTY Awards

PinkNews logo on pink background with rainbow corners.

A gay runner who stood up to homophobic bullying by running 401 marathons has been honoured with a special award during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony.

34-year-old equality campaigner Ben Smith raised money for Stonewall and Kidscape by running 401 marathons in 401 days.

Mr Smith made the epic journey in a bid to raise awareness for young people who are bullied and targeted for being LGBT – speaking out about his own horrific experiences of homophobic bullying during his time at school, which led him to attempt suicide.

The campaigner was honoured with the Helen Rollason Award at last night’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, with diver Tom Daley and runner Paula Radcliffe presenting his award alongside host Clare Balding.

Mr Smith explained: “I had such fun as a child, I was really happy, really confident… but that all changed when I went to school. The fact that I didn’t have the same clothes or the right haircut, I’d be called names.

“Then the mental side of bullying turned into something quite physical, where I was being beaten up sometimes on a daily basis. I didn’t really start figures out my sexuality until I was about 13 years old.

“I knew I was gay but I wasn’t ready to accept it. After five more years of the bullying more directed towards the sexuality side of things, that’s when it really took its toll on me.

“That’s when I tried to take my own life. I slipped into a state of depression, I didn’t even know who I was, and that’s what made me sit up and think ‘I can’t do this anymore and my life needs to change’.

“I didn’t wake up one morning thinking I could run 401 marathons in 401 days… we wanted to raise a quarter of a million pounds for two anti-bullying charities, and in order to do that we needed to do something quite big.”

Mr Smith ran a total of 10,500 miles – the equivalent distance between London and Sydney, visiting 101 schools along the way to speak about his experience.

Accepting the award, he said: “I want to say thank you to the tens of thousands of people that came out and supported this. My life was very very different four years ago… I found running as my sanctuary and my way to express myself and be who I was.

“Running people gave me back my confidence, it gave me back my self esteem – but most importantly I’m not afraid anymore.”

The award is presented in memory of the late pioneering BBC sports presenter Helen Rollason.