Christine Coffey talks moustaches, ‘Coldvember’ and men’s health with one of UCD’s Movember ambassadors, Rory O’Neill.
November is a remarkable month for many reasons - it gets dark before five, Christmas jingles prematurely slip into television advertisements, and the annual Movember campaign sees Irish men join their international counterparts in a thirty-day attempt at growing a ‘Mo for a Fellow Bro’. Inspiration is drawn from iconic ‘taches, everything from classic Charlie Chaplin to a more contemporary Ron Swanson in Parks and Rec, all in the name of raising both awareness and funds for men’s health. At the time of writing, members of ‘The UCD Challenge’ have raised €57,889 and covered over 10,500km in a concerted effort to add their personal motivations for addressing this important issue to those of this international charity.
There was really only one way to kick off the interview with Rory O’Neill, one of UCD’s Movember ambassadors pledging to run 10km every day for the month to go with his moustache. When asked what he was aiming for on a scale of Eddie Murphy to Ron Burgundy, O’Neill jovially responded “I wish I could be Ron Burgundy… there can be lots of competition around [who has the best moustache], but it’s supposed to be a bit of fun. By December 1st my moustache will be well and truly gone, or my girlfriend might break up with me”. He is one of 280 participants in the ‘UCD Challenge’, the official combined endeavour of the university this month. “UCD have been great. Everyone wanted to rally behind this, and they were willing to share [social media posts]. [UCDSU Welfare Officer] Ruairí Power put us in contact with Georgina Dwyer [of UCD Sport] …they were a massive help. I can’t speak highly enough of them...Last year’s nationwide total for the students of Ireland was €60,000 and UCD are on course to break that alone this year”.
Growing a moustache isn’t the only way of getting involved in Movember, and O’Neill was quick to point to the significant contribution of the 'Mo Sisters' of UCD Clubs and Societies participating for their brothers, fathers and friends. ‘Move for Movember’ challenges people to run or walk 60km over the month, “60km for the 60 men we lose to suicide each hour”. Several of the UCD clubs, such as UCD Sailing, are taking part in ‘Coldvember’, and many of those committed to braving the wintery elements to go for a swim every day for the month are female teammates. When talking about the sense of community amongst clubs this has engendered, O’Neill remarked: “That’s the biggest factor in the clubs. If I didn’t have people getting me out of the bed to get into the water, I wouldn’t be doing it”. “Two of our biggest fundraisers, the Canoe and Surf Clubs, both have women as captains - Maeve Lynch and Eithne Boyle. Eithne is also the largest individual raiser in UCD”. O’Neill also goes into detail about the part played by Jessica Brady, ambassador for UCD’s societies, such as C&E and UCD Science Society, and their substantial efforts. He also mentions that the ‘UCD Challenge’ figures don’t include that of the Sub-Aqua team, who have raised €4046 and covered over 470km in a substantial solo effort.
When asked about the different motivations behind participating in Movember, O’Neill discussed reservations in social interactions commonly associated with men, but more generally applicable to most groups; “in the way they act, the way they look after each other. A lot of the time you don’t want to be prying, but it is important. We as men don’t talk about things and don’t check up on our friends and family as much as we should. I’m bad for it myself”. Suicide prevention and awareness around cancer are cited by many of the students as their reason for getting involved this year. Some of the statistics O’Neill mentioned over the course of the interview included “one [man dying] every sixty seconds from suicide”, “three in every four suicides being men” and “testicular cancer being the most common cancer in young men” as real causes for concern. Much more concrete for UCD’s Movember community were the ‘people behind these statistics' that O’Neill brings up, including members of the UCD Canoe and Sub-Aqua clubs’ communities that were lost only months ago. O’Neill praised their ability to rally in the face of tragedy and the positive impact they are trying to have as a group.
O’Neill explained the ‘three pillars’ of men’s health that constitute the central focus of Movember, namely mental health, testicular cancer and prostate cancer, and the way the organisation tackles pervasive stigmas around each of these issues. Early detection and innovations in treatment remain crucial, and a significant proportion of the money raised by Movember is dedicated to funding research projects and international collaboration in the field of both testicular and prostate cancer. The charity also creates online resources such as ‘True North’ and ‘Forward Momentum’ to support patients, families and friends faced with navigating through their prognosis. Just this month, Movember announced they are making €309,000 in grant funding available in Ireland alone to help improve first responder mental health programmes.
Amidst the clamour of well-meaning champions of various social issues, there’s a simplicity to the messages surrounding Movember, an authenticity attached to the flipping of the symbolism associated with the moustache, a vulnerability in this quiet, unspoken display of support that transcends the gimmick of growing facial hair. There is something tangible about to 60km target for the one man that dies from suicide every 60 seconds, something proactive in the way physical check-ups are encouraged, something inherently positive about the discussions it sparks among people. Mo Bros and Mo Sisters are keenly aware of the importance of these conversations and how the money raised is distributed to go beyond the important and difficult to quantify aim of ‘raising awareness’ to also help put structures in place to help those that need it the most.
The November sky might seem to get a little darker a bit earlier this year and the Christmas jingles might not have the same kitschy and nostalgic sheen, but the will to check in on friends and family is more apparent than ever. How far the UCD Movember team get on their month-long journey towards Tom Selleck or Hulk Hogan levels of facial hair renown, or what remarkable distance they can combine to cover over the thirty days, belies their more humble ambition to be but a small part of movement affecting concrete and measurable change for the ever-pressing issue of men’s health.
For Cathal, Declan and all those lost to suicide.