“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” -Winston Churchill
In today's social networking world, self promotion seems to be the key to getting anywhere. And that, unfortunately, is no exception for the mental health community. It seems as if you need to constantly be networking and selling yourself to be able help others. It ends up becomming more about getting your name out there than actually working to help others at times.
Yet, even in this day and age there are thousands that are making a difference on a daily basis behind the scenes that are rarely heard about. They are volunteering, working at crisis centers, speaking to kids at risk, forming campaigns and events to raise awareness. They do this without ever expecting any recognition, fame, or fortune. These are the people that inspire me and these are the people that I want to hear more about. They are the unsung heroes and this is one such story of two of these people that turned their tragedy into something inspiring.
In March of 2014, Meg and Joe Elliott's lives changed forever when the lost their son Jesse. With the loss still fresh in their minds, almost a year after his death they decided to do something to combat the epidemic that depression and suicide has become. So they got rid of their home, put their belongings into storage, packed up their SUV, and set off on a journey to raise awareness in their own special way.
Meg was a runner and had completed a couple marathons previously, so they decided to try and raise awareness through running. Running long distance was something Meg was always good at. As Joe said to me, "She isn't the fastest, But she has more stickability than anyone I know. Once she gets going, she does not stop". Her initial idea was to actually run from coast to coast. But after trying to figure out the logistics of it they decided to do a "50k in 50 States" campaign where Meg would run 50 kilometers in each state. This made it much easier to plan out the hotels, routes, timeline, and also allowed them to make it to all 50 states.
They spend a week in each city they they choose with routes planned out for each day. The runs are usually divided into a few days with some days being longer than others. Joe is always riding by her side as Meg, and sometimes their dog Crypto, run to raise awareness with no fan fare and very little recognition. Their goal is to not only raise awareness, but to also try and raise $50,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
To date they have made it to 39 states and are heading into the final 20% that will take them on a journey throughout New England, then south toward Virginia, before flying over to Hawaii to wrap up the campaign in November. Their runs have taken them all over the US, meeting new people. And, as Joe noted when we were talking "...90% of the people we have met and spoken with has been touched by suicide." and continued on saying, "yet no one seems to want to talk about it." This is part of the reason they are traveling the country, to meet and talk to those they come in contact with along the way. Spreading the word about suicide prevention and awareness.
Currently they are in Syracuse, New York getting ready to head off to Vermont for the next leg of their tour. This is where I caught up with Joe as he was getting their vehicle ready for another trip to the next state on their itinerary. We had a short conversation about their mission, some of the people they met, and the adventures they had while crossing the country (to which they probably could write a book about) What I learned from talking with Joe is that he and Meg are just ordinary people who have been hurt by the loss of a loved one, just like so many others. They just felt that they had the opportunity and needed to do something to hopefully prevent this type of tragedy from happening to others while possibly giving some catharsis to themselves at the same time. This meant that they would be leaving their job, home, and their lives for at least a year. This is no small task. But, in their minds, it is what needed to be done. He was completely honest and humble about what they were doing. To him, it was just what needed to be done. Both for themselves and those that their efforts may help.
As their campaign is starting to reach the home stretch, I asked about their future plans when they are done with their year long trip throughout the country, Joe just said that anything is possible, anything at all. They do plan on spending time with family immediately following the tour and then maybe some time traveling....maybe seeing Europe. But nothing is set in stone, everything is wide open. Maybe even more fundraising or spreading awareness...only time will tell. Whatever leads to happiness.
When I first heard of their story I was amazed that someone would take on such a huge undertaking and give up so much of their lives to try an help others. Then I realized that so many out there do the same thing every day without wanting anything in return, except the knowledge that they are doing good. Just like Meg and Joe Elliott are doing. These are the unsung heroes. These are those I look up to. These are the people I strive to be like.
"There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
Please take the time to follow their adventure on Twitter or Facebook and, if you can, donate to their pledge page. Every bit of what is donated goes to the AFSP as the work to try and reduce suicide rates by 20% over the next few years.