Kelly Paul, organizer, Nicholas Keays, Tanille Johnston and seven others relay ran from Port Hardy to Campbell River yesterday in the third Heliset Hale Relay to raise awareness for suicide prevention and mental health and wellness. Photo by Jocelyn Doll/Campbell River Mirror

VIDEO: ‘Don’t do life alone’ say suicide awareness runners on Vancouver Island

First Nations Heliset Hale Relay team running to make a difference

When Campbell River’s Tanille Johnston originally signed up to run the Heliset Hále Relay she thought she was only signing up to do the section from Sayward to Campbell River.

“I know as First Nations we are kind of the highest risk rate of everything,” she said—diabetes, mental health challenges, suicide. “This is something that has specifically impacted our community really hard this year and it felt like a good year and they were tying in the mental health piece which was really big for me.”

Upon hearing back from the organizer welcoming her to the team, she panicked. Johnston started working for the Kwakiutl District Council in March, so she wasn’t allowed to take time off whenever she wanted, let alone two weeks. But her boss was on board, saying the message from the relay was something the KDC could endorse.

“I sent (the application) in and that was that and I’m off on a new adventure,” Johnston said.

The relay began in 2013 as a way to raise awareness about suicide, mental health and wellness in First Nations Communities. Kelly Paul was the original organizer.

“The main message that we want to get through to people is that people aren’t alone and to help people find their support systems and just to reach out,” she said. “Don’t do life alone.”

The team of nine takes turns running 10 km legs, altogether running 70-90 km a day. They started in Port Hardy on Sept. 10 and arrived in Campbell River yesterday afternoon where they were welcomed by the KDC.

For Johnston the relay is not only a chance to raise awareness about suicide and mental health, both which have touched her life, but to heal herself as well.

“It was a little bit of a selfish move as well, I’m kind of a doer when I work through things,” she said. “Counselling is for some people but for me I need the physicalness of whatever it is to help me process, so this was a perfect opportunity.”

So far the experience has been a good one. There have been tears but she has finished the each day with a sore face because she is laughing so much.

“It’s a super exciting time for me but it is also super emotional when we are running,” she said. “You go through so much. You think of so many things. Our elder let us know that if we can to run without headphones because there are going to be messages coming to us from our ancestors that we need to be able to pay attention to.”

The team will arrive in the Comox Valley later today before continuing on to Qualicum Beach. Tomorrow they head inland to Port Alberni. The relay will conclude in Tsawout on Sept. 24.

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