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Runners raise more than $10,000 for mental health initiatives

Author Clay William presents his Canadian flag signed by hundreds of people who have struggled with a mood disorder. He carries this flag with him on every race he runs. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]

Elmira’s Clay Williams is no stranger to giving his all in support of mental health initiatives. August 25 marked the end of his fourth Canal Pursuit Annual Run for Mental Health, a 750 km relay run with the proceeds going towards Mood Disorders of Canada.

“It was good; we had a fundraising target of $10,000,” said Williams. “And we met our goal on the second day. So we raised the target to $15,000 because that just seems to be the thing to do. It looks like it’ll be around $13,000. This was the fourth annual run, so now we’ve got a running total of close to $50,000.”

For the majority of runners, the Defeat Depression Campaign is a significant, personal cause to them. Nicole Armstrong is a participant in the event for the past four years and has collectively raised approximately $2,100.

“My brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia about 23 years ago,” explained Armstrong. “And he has bipolar and depression as well. It’s something that he has to deal with every day. So watching his struggles and how he manages his life with the schizophrenia and the bipolar/depression, we’re very supportive of him. And he goes to work every day – he’s a taxidermist.

“He and his boss have worked on a lot of exhibits. He has two exhibits at the R.O.M in Toronto. He has these mental health issues, but he’s very successful in life, in general. Just having that ability to go to work every day. It’s with a lot of support. It’s very inspiring to me.”

Williams also runs for his wife, his sister and two daughters, who have struggled with depression. He also lost his two of his older brothers to suicide. Therefore, this cause is crucial to him.

“It seems like every year, more and more people are getting involved,” said Armstrong. “I’m finding too, with the last four years participating in it, you’re meeting more and more people that have the exact same struggles. It’s not uncommon now to hear ‘I have a family member too,’ or ‘I’m struggling.’ And that’s definitely opening up the conversation, and it’s showing that this event is really raising awareness for a fantastic cause.”

Williams noted that the event had grown this year as well, suggesting the use of social media played a role in helping to raise awareness. He also used postcards to get the message out. They plan to continue the tradition next year.

“I was speaking before the run started, that I would do year five as a solo kayak trip,” said Williams. “But so many people that ran this year said that they want to do it next year. So, I’m thinking that we’re going to rerun next year while the momentum is going. I think we’ll get a little more attention from politicians. Each year we have a couple more politicians show up and support us.”

While the majority of the run was smooth sailing, there were several challenges runners faced along the way.

“I ran 30 on Sunday,” said Armstrong. “It was pretty smooth for 20k. Then weirdly enough, it got later in the day, and some humidity set in. So I had a little struggle for the last 10k. But it’s definitely nothing compared to what someone’s living with every day, who has mental health issues.”

“I ran the entire course the first two years. I ran the challenging parts of the course in the third year. By challenging, I mean some sections are not on roads, and the maps are not very good, and I know the route by turning right on an ATV trail by the power line, so those were the directions I gave. And they were not very good,” said Williams with a laugh.

“And a couple of runners made wrong turns. And I take responsibility for that. But other than that – no injuries, there was a little bit of rain, but it was August rain, it wasn’t September rain. Everything went pretty well.”

Fifty-five other participants ran in this relay race; some ran individually, others in groups of two or three. The track started at Port Severn on August 18, with a maximum of 100 km covered each day.

The runners visited a variety of locations including Belleville, Kingston, Rideau Ferry, and Smiths Falls before finally finishing at Parliament Hill at 4:30 p.m. in Ottawa.

More information about the cause can be found at Defeat Depression.

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