From Drug addict to athletics champion

editorial image

A Derry man who stole from his parents and sold drugs to fund his own drug habit, has spoken about how he has been able to completely turn his life around thanks to his family, friends, and his faith.

Timothy Shiels has now spoken in harrowing detail about how his life spiralled out of control after he endured bullying when he moved to a new school. The 38-year-old’s fascinating life story went public last week when he competed in a major international athletics meeting.

Timothy, who grew up in Marlborough Street, had been a star pupil at St Joseph’s School in Creggan and at that point had a promising athletics career ahead of him. However when he moved to a school in Strabane as a teenager for more A-level options, he endured bullying which the 38-year-old now believes led him down the “slippery slope” of drug taking.

“My identity took a bit of a battering and I found that I became very isolated,” said Timothy.

“I used to spend my days just travelling between Derry and Strabane. I wasn’t going to school at that point. When you’re not going to school you begin to see other young people who aren’t going to school and I fell in with a crowd who spent their days shoplifting and sniffing solvents. That, for me, was the entry into the world of drug taking. For me, it was a natural, logical progression.”

Timothy says he had become so isolated that at first, his parents, Nuala and Frank weren’t aware of his drugtaking. Eventually, as his drug habit worsened, so too did Timothy’s relationship with his parents.

“At the highest point in my life, and the lowest point in my addiction I was spending £400 a day on drugs,” he revealed. “I was taking Ecstasy, LSD and Cocaine. I stole from my parents, I was selling drugs and was involved in theft, I ended up with a criminal record. I had my life threatened by a group of people who told me to leave the city.

“In my mum and dad’s eyes they had a Grade A student who had always been told by the athletics coach that he had a massive amount of potential. I went from that to turning a knife on my father. I know he’s forgiven me, but that’s something I’ll never forgive myself for.”

When Timothy’s parents could no longer cope with his behaviour, his father Frank took him to Dublin to get help. It was shortly after this that Timothy met a nun, Sister Consilio, who ran a halfway house called Teach Mhuire. Timothy still credits Sr. Consilio with being the catalyst who helped him turn his life around by encouraging him to enter into rehab.

Since then, the Derry man has gradually rebuilt his life, his athletics career, his relationship with his family and is now pastor of the Cornerstone Community Church in Omagh.

At the weekend, Timothy represented Ireland at a top Athletics meeting in Ireland after turning his life around. He’ll compete at another world class event in Turkey in August.

For now though, after many years where he thought he didn’t have a future, Timothy believes the life ahead of him is bright. “I have a great partner in Jenny, I have five amazing children, God is still God and I am happy. I have so much to be thankful for,” he said.