Fast as Joshua Tillson
was, he couldn't outrun his problems. But by pulling
on shoes and hitting the trail, he found a way to
Just over one year ago,
on Feb. 11, 2016, Tillson lost his stepfather, Norm
Fournier, to suicide.
Fournier, 55, was known
to friends and family as a caring, compassionate man
who was active and loved the outdoors, but he had
also been suffering from depression.
His death was a devastating
blow to his loved ones, including Tillson.
"It was a really
difficult time in my life, because I was very close
with my stepfather and we had a really good relationship,"
said Tillson, 16. "I had never seen the signs,
I never expected such a thing, and it was a great
It was difficult to process,
and just as hard to talk about.
"I went through
a long period of time where I was in denial. I didn't
believe that could have happened. Through this period,
I struggled with my own emotions. I thought, 'How
could he have done something like that? Why would
he have taken his life?', and it led me to struggle
with my own depression and to struggle with my own
thoughts and emotions each and every day."
A cross-country and track-and-field
competitor, Tillson found himself struggling as a
competitor, too, because he had lost self-confidence.
Then, he changed his
outlook and his approach to running, and it changed
"I turned to running,
not as something competitive, not as something where
I'm racing against other people, but as somewhere
I could feel intact with my emotions, somewhere I
could express my emotions and go on to being a little
more open about the emotions, the feelings I was hiding
deep down inside," Tillson said. "Through
running, through this new spiritual element of running
that I had now found, I was able to overcome the thoughts
and emotions I was feeling, to overcome that depression,
and it really helped me develop and go on to get better
in track, go on to compete stronger, as running wasn't
something where I was just competitive. It was something
where I could really go and express my emotions."
Aware that many more
Sudbury youth have gained similar benefits from running,
including several schoolmates on Lo-Ellen Park Secondary's
standout track and cross-country teams, Tillson and
his friend Lauren Beaudry, a student at Lockerby Composite
School, organized the Unbreakable Spring Open, a run
to raise awareness about mental health and end the
stigma associated with suicide, to be held at Rotary
Park in Sudbury on April 23.
Proceeds from the event
will go towards bringing a Cameron Helps initiative
to Sudbury. Cameron Helps is a charity that works
towards reducing stigma around suicide and youth mental
illness, build awareness of those issues in the community
and promote the positive impacts of physical health
on mental health.
"I had running as
my passion already, so it was easy for me to turn
to it as an outlet and express my emotions,"
Tillson told a press conference at Lo-Ellen on Thursday.
"But there's so many youth in Sudbury who are
dealing with those same emotions and they don't have
that same passion for running. They don't have that
same outlet that I had, where I could go express my
emotions, so instead, they boil those emotions deep
down inside them.
"I thought it was
really important that we take the steps, the measures
towards being able to help those youth in Sudbury
who were going through the same emotions I was, so
we can give them another option where we can first
raise awareness about mental health, then work towards
bringing a program to Sudbury can can be offered to
youth who are struggling with that same low mental
It's a worthy goal, according
to Pauline Robidoux, branch manager at RBC in the
South End, who spoke at Thursday's press conference
and presented Tillson with a $5,000 donation from
RBC to Cameron Helps.
"I want to talk
about a word at the core of this event – unbreakable,"
Robidoux said. "This word is at the heart of
what happens when we all come together to be a voice
for one another, a shoulder to lean on, an ear to
listen. We create a shared spirit, an unbreakable
spirit. With every step, shoulder to shoulder on April
23, we will prove this with strength in numbers. The
more people we bring into this journey, the stronger
we become, the more unbreakable we become."
The Unbreakable Spring
Open includes a five-kilometre run/walk at 10:30 a.m.
and a kids' one-kilometre event at 10 a.m.
Prizes will be handed
out to top finishers in the five-kilometre race, but
the main focus isn't on competition.
"It's an event that
isn't like all the other races we have in the Sudbury
community," Tillson said. "Instead of having
a table of results for first, second, third, fourth,
competing for that top place, instead we're going
to be working as a community towards achieving a goal
of overall kilometres, that as a community, we ran
this certain amount of kilometres.
"It's more about
coming together, bringing the Sudbury community together
in a team environment, where we can run or walk and
we're all working towards that same goal of completing
"We already has
so many volunteers who are signing up and it's really
going to be about that positive atmosphere we create
at the run."
For more information
or the register, visit unbreakablespringopen.weebly.com.