The night before 55-year-old Norm Fournier died by suicide in February 2016, he and his family enjoyed a dinner of pizza and watched some television. It seemed like an ordinary evening.
“He seemed really happy,” said his stepson Josh Tillson, now 16. “There was no sign whatsoever.”
Tillson, a Grade 11 student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, said he was close with his stepfather — they spent time together doing home renovations and communing with nature in Killarney.
As he grieved Fournier's sudden death, Tillson became angry and depressed. After spending some time hiding away in his room, the teen turned to something he'd always loved to make him feel better — running.
“Running just helped me through that,” he said. “It helped me release that anger. It helped me to forgive.”
Tillson wants to help other youth who have been touched by suicide and mental health issues.
He found a group called Cameron Helps, a youth suicide prevention organization that sets up youth wellness running programs called Team Unbreakable.
Recent science has shown there is a significant correlation between physical activity and improved mental health.
Tillson wants to bring a Team Unbreakable program to Greater Sudbury. To raise money to make his dream a reality, he's holding a fundraising run April 23.
He's working with his friend, Lauren-Ashleigh Beaudry, a Grade 12 student at Lockerby Composite School, along with community supporters, to make the new event a reality.
The Unbreakable Spring Open also aims to tackle mental illness stigma.
“The stigma comes from being afraid to talk about it,” Tillson said.
“I had lots of people since I started this event reach out to me and explain their own stories, where before they never could speak out about it. It's all about breaking down that stigma.”
The Unbreakable Spring Open takes place at Rotary Park (the trails adjacent to Adanac Ski Hill) April 23, with a 10 a.m. start time for the kids' 1-km event and a 10:30 a.m. start time for the 5-km run/walk.
To register, visit unbreakablerun.com.