Help marathon runner Baz and NSPCC protect against abuse

Fund runners: Every runner in this Sunday’s London Marathon has a story to tell. NSPCC fund-raiser Baz’s story is harrowing

Croydon’s Behzad Shadnia – “Baz” – is running in the London Marathon this Sunday, raising money for the NSPCC – the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Baz, who’s from South Norwood, has strong personal reasons to support the NSPCC’s cause.

There’s a clue right at the top of his JustGiving page: “Trigger warning”, it says, in big capital letters.

“Please don’t read any further if you have unprocessed trauma.”

Baz moved to Dubai at the age of seven. A shy child, he struggled to make friends at school, but bonded with the children of family friends. He and his peers had freedom to explore their local area and for the most part felt safe in their adventures.

When Baz was 12, he and a friend were approached by two men inviting them to take a ride on a speedboat. Excited and used to trusting the adults they encountered, the boys went with them. Once they were away from the shore, Baz was sexually abused by one of the men.

Afraid for his life, Baz froze. When they got back to shore, he walked away quickly and never looked back. He was determined to push what had happened from his mind.

Every childhood is worth fighting for: Baz has strong reasons to support the NSPCC

Later, as an adult, Baz had the realisation that what happened to him was abuse.

He has worked to overcome this and to move forwards with his life without carrying the weight of this on his shoulders in silence. He is sharing his experiences publicly in the hope it brings positive change for others and is running the London Marathon in aid of NSPCC in 2022.

This is Baz’s story in his own words:

I moved to Dubai to live with my dad and step-mum when I was seven years old.

I was around 12 years old when my friend and I had gone fishing in the harbour and were approached by two men. They spoke in Arabic and I couldn’t understand what was said as I wasn’t fluent.

My friend translated and said they were inviting us to go for a ride on their speedboat. It seemed like a fun adventure, and Dubai had always felt like such a safe place to be for us that we trusted them instinctively.

When we got out of the harbour the two men offered my friend a turn at steering the boat. One of the men held a fishing spear, the other was controlling the steering wheel. After, the man signalled to me to come and take a turn so I swapped places with my friend. As I sat down, I realised immediately things weren’t right. I was really uncomfortable and very scared. I don’t know if I understood what was beginning to happen or the full risk of what might happen, but I definitely knew he shouldn’t have his hands on me.

I sat unmoving, in absolute shock. They say you get a “fight, flight, or freeze” response when you panic, and I absolutely froze. I kept wondering what he might do if I tried to stop him. Would he hurt me, turn violent, throw me overboard?

Once I’d had that thought I began to genuinely fear for my life, suddenly seeing the danger me and my friend were in, out to sea with these men we didn’t know. With nothing I could do I sat paralysed by terror and hoped they would take us back to shore.

I don’t know how long this assault went on for, but when my friend asked for another turn steering the man turned him away, insisting I come back and sit down again. My friend was really disappointed to miss his turn, not realising what was happening to me.

I was terrified when the man told me to come back. I didn’t want to but didn’t know what else to do. When the man had me sat down he started touching me again, and the same fearful feelings came back. Then, my mind went blank as my brain blocked everything out.

The next thing I was aware of, we were back at the shore. I have no idea how long we were out on the boat for.

The men gestured to their car nearby and said something I didn’t understand. My friend translated that the men were offering to give us a lift to our homes. I said, “No”, turned and walked away as fast as I could without looking back. I don’t even want to think what might have happened if me or my friend had got into that car.

As a child, I blocked it all out. I didn’t tell anyone what happened and pushed it from my brain. It was buried in my memory until 2020, when a few conversations came up in my day-to-day life that brought back memories from my childhood, causing me to see things in a new light.

Marathon task: Baz is seeking your help by raising money this Sunday

I was Googling definitions of words that described what I’d been subjected to, trying to make sense of what I was remembering. I thought of this incident in the boat and began to see it for what it was. I had been sexually abused and the men had quite possibly been grooming me for further abuse. The more I thought things over, the more I began to unpack the experience and work through what had happened to me.

I tried to understand for quite a while how my experience compares to others who have been through severe and prolonged abuse, and I struggled to see myself in the context of someone who had a right to be upset or share what had happened, because I was thinking of how what I experienced was a one-off incident.

I sat alone at home working through these thoughts and feelings during one of the covid-19 lockdowns in 2020, amazed how many safeguarding training sessions I’d sat through for my work in the past without ever making the connection to my own experience.

As part of my healing process, I recognised there’s no darker place to be than to sit alone with thoughts like this. I wrote down my story and what I was feeling to get the weight off my shoulders, but didn’t post this on my social media as I’d originally planned.

Instead, I shared it with trusted friends. I reached out to a colleague, who was really supportive.

Each time I shared my experience, I felt better for a little while, and the more times I shared my story with others, the longer the feeling of relief lasted. The majority of the responses I had were filled with love. Friends said they were sorry I had been through something that was awful, and that helped me understand that it was awful, what had been done to me, and that I had the right to feel upset about it and to want to make sense of it and didn’t have to compare my experiences against experiences I thought of as worse; my experience still mattered.

Coming to terms with what was done to me as a child has ended up making me a stronger person.

I wanted to run the London Marathon to push myself. I spent too long in my younger years feeling unmotivated and now I want to challenge myself.

I’d taken up running in 2020 and found it was really good for me and decided I wanted my run to have a purpose. I will be running in aid of the NSPCC and have decided to share my story as part of my running, hoping others can read it and take something positive away.

I hope what I’m doing and sharing can help others.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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