Over the years, the Run/Walk/Skate for Suicide Prevention has emerged as the premier public event for suicide awareness and healing for suicide loss survivors in northern Minnesota.
By 7 a.m. on the event day, I'm usually walking into the Sanford Center with a coffee in one hand, clipboard in another with a list of last-minute things to arrange. There are over 100 volunteers to manage. Phone and email contacts introduce themselves in person. I'm pointing people to the resource fair, checking in with the registration table, and scouring the growing crowd for guest speakers while watching the clock.
Groups from many organizations, churches, families, schools are busy checking in and getting their T-shirts. Serious competitors are outside warming up and stretching. The BSU Women's Hockey team will arrive with roller blades and willingly plant missing signs along the route. I bring out the water dishes for the dog station along with treats and "pick-up" bags.
The sound system is being tested outdoors. The slideshow runs in the conference room, and people look over the prizes generously donated by our community. A youth group prays in the Hope Room. Veterans arrive in with matching shirts, showing solidarity and support. Families take pictures by the photo booth. Outside, more families gather and wait for the opening message and blast of the starting horn.
I love Run/Walk/Skate day. It is the culmination of six months of hard work that happens right before my eyes. The collective energy intensifies. Strangers share their stories, and some families gather for the first time since their loss. The event brings tears, laughter, love and support. The RWS is about grief, honor and hope.
This year, the 14th annual event will happen without a crowd.
The giant, blow-up finish line arch and timer will not be set up. There won't be volunteers giving high-fives along the way. Each team and participant is tasked to walk and run on their own. In fact, some people will choose routes very differently than the one we've had in recent years. Some people will be running and competing in other cities and states. Some participants have already completed their events. For some, this is sadness. For others, this is an inspiration to do things a little differently.
A gentleman confided that his group might not attend this year because they love the feeling of being in a crowd with so many like-minded individuals. About three hours later, I received a second phone call from him. He said, "We got to thinking, if we don't support this event, you might not be able to have one next year. Then, we'll really be out of luck. We've raised $500 for you so far, and we can't wait to make this happen for our group." Moments like this that leave me speechless. I'm tearing up while typing.
Safety concerns and social distancing necessitate a radically different look and feel for 2020. COVID-19 has taken much from us, but RWS is about transcending tragedy. We desperately need your support to keep this event alive despite the pandemic.
It's not too late to register or lend your support. Registration will close at noon on Sept. 12. Running times submitted with your preferred tracking device will be uploaded to the winner's page on Saturday and Sunday. Sunday at noon, winners will be announced on Facebook, and we'll draw winners for the marvelous prizes.
For the sake of community, solidarity, understanding, and support, please send in pictures of your team so we can share the love until we can gather again. Thank you for your support.
For more information, visit www.bemidjirunwalkskate.org.
Kelly Brevig is Suicide Educational Services Coordinator for Evergreen Youth & Family Services, Inc.