Jake Bailey could not just sit idly by after mourning the death of one of his friends who was depressed and died at the age of 19.
Depression was not something Bailey and his best friends Lucas Hess and Kyle Olson talked about because boys do not want to seem weak.
But these 19-year-old Blaine men made themselves and the important topic of depression very visible as they rode their longboards 150 miles from Duluth to Blaine from the morning of Friday, Aug. 23 through early Sunday afternoon, Aug. 25.
“It’s something I think gets pushed under the table until something bad happens and nobody usually does anything about it because it’s not something you can see,” Olson said. “Instead of sitting around, Jake, the person that he is, was like we’re going to do something about this and so we did and it made a difference.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 6.7 percent of U.S. adults experience major depressive disorder each year. Additionally 3.3 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds have experienced a seriously debilitating depressive disorder.
Scientists continue to study depression, but the most likely causes are a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors.
“A lot of people know now that it’s OK to talk about (depression) if something is bothering you,” Hess said. “If you are depressed that’s the only way to get help.”
All three said this 150-mile journey to raise awareness of suicide was by far the greatest physical challenge they have ever faced, and they each had their own training regimen to prepare for the 60, 50 and 40-mile legs they did over the three days.
Bailey previously did an 80-mile round trip between North Branch and Blaine on his longboard in one day and was caught in a rainstorm. Olson’s longest distance in one day prior to this trip was 25 miles. Hess’ best distance was two miles, but Bailey said he was able to keep up with them because they were all anxious to get home.
There were plenty of times when they could not tell if people were honking in support or anger.
“I think we could count on one hand the number of people that we didn’t know that supported us,” Olson said. “A lot of mean looks because we were on the side of the highway and a lot of honking. It was very discouraging and very upsetting.”
The second day (Aug. 24) in particular along Highway 61 was tough because there was a narrower shoulder to ride on and they were getting tired from the mid-90s temperatures and winds that frequently gusted up to 30 mph. The only water they had each day was from the camelbacks which weighed 30 pounds when filled with water.
Olson was quick to add that it was really encouraging to get support from the people who did know who they were. Prior to their trip, media outlets in the Twin Cities and Duluth, including KARE 11, interviewed them to raise awareness about their mission.
Bailey received many Facebook messages from people he did not know to offer support. Some of the largest donations they received were from strangers. Their initial goal was to raise $1,000 for an outreach group based in Minnesota called Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. They raised $3,060.
When it felt like there was no hope and no end in sight on that second day, a family stopped to give them a $30 gift card to Dairy Queen. Bailey said it felt like he was holding “a magnificent golden card.”
Olson said the best feeling in the world was when they saw people lining the street to cheer them on as they approached home.
“It felt so good, we had tons of people here, everyone was crying and clapping just for us,” Olson said.
They have not set up any formal plans for a repeat fundraiser. The class of 2012 Spring Lake Park High School graduates are entering their sophomore years in college. Bailey, a student at Hennepin Tech in Brooklyn Park, is looking to get into the communications field. Hess is attending Century College in White Bear Lake and wants to be a police officer. Olson is at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and plans to be an electrical engineer.
“We were all just kind of amazed at how much attention we got for our first year,” Bailey said. “It really said something that if we keep on doing this, you never know five years down the road we could be organizing thousands of people on an event.”
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org