OPINION: The Lower Mainland running community has been my saviour since my brother died. Good people, doing fun things, some faster than others! And we push each other, and pull each other along if necessary. Our common bond is we never give up no matter how tough the road or trail gets. Our hope is that you don’t either
A 500-foot long breathtaking bridge, in the Agent Orange-stained mountains of Da Nang, Vietnam is the crowned jewel of the third-largest city in this compelling country.
Opened in June 2018, The Golden Bridge — or Cau Vang in local lingo — has helped this war-ravaged area become more than a coffee stop for beach- and sun-seeking tourists. Indeed, the structure with the two giant concrete hands near the Whistler-like Ba Na Hills resort has become a symbol of recovery and has helped attract people by the thousands for that epic Instagram moment.
The other crowd-pleasing structure along the scooter-filled roads in this developing tourist destination is the fire-breathing Dragon Bridge with its 15,000 LED lights. People flock here at night to eat and watch the light/fire show over the Han River.
But it is the less touristy Thuan Phuoc, the country’s longest cable-stayed suspension bridge, that stopped all the oohs and aahs on our otherwise enlightening and educational Da Nang Jeep tour.
“We call this the Suicide Bridge. Three people died just this week jumping off it. Depression, gambling debts, anxiety, mental illness, and who knows what other reasons,” our English-speaking guide offered unexpectedly from the front passenger seat of an ex-army Jeep. “Lots of people, including tourists, kill themselves here every week. We don’t know why, and there seems to be no way to stop it. We won a war with our minds, but we can’t think of how to stop suicide. I just can’t imagine losing my family members in that manner.”
I can. It really, really sucks. And you never get over it — you learn to live with the crushing loss and emotional waves, the missed birthdays, Christmases and other dates that connected you. We may be helpless to turn back time, but not hopeless to steer future generations and conversations.
I told our tour guide about the Moustache Miler and Movember, the Vancouver/Canadian initiatives for dealing with men’s mental health issues and he said “That’s good to hear. Bet that means a lot to those affected.”
My wife then shared our story with the now-shocked guide, and included that her own father came oh-so close to that edge of no return. The guide tried to apologize, even offered to refund or discount our tour money, saying he shouldn’t have talked about suicide without knowing his audience.
We pointed out those discussions can be harsh, but they need to be heard — or people will keep jumping and dying, leaving countless families damaged for good. This silent killer, which claims one life every 60 seconds in the world, needs to be discussed and dealt with, not swept under the carpet or be a by-the-way, throwaway comment on a freakin’ tour.
When Shannon Banal agreed last year to be event organizer of the born-again Mo Miler, the awesome Vancouver business woman was caught a bit off guard by the outpouring of grief as countless runners and people shared heartbreaking stories with her. It didn’t take long for the talented photographer to realize her efforts to make a difference really mattered.
“Conversation by conversation, you’re helping others know that we all struggle and that it’s OK to ask for, and get help. Thank you for talking, and entrusting me with your personal stories,” said Banal. “We just have to do this event and we have to keep talking about men’s mental and physical health. You can’t ignore those troubling statistics.”
Jeannine Avelino, a journalist, runner and friend (who owns drool-worthy Nuun arm sleeves!), asked this scribe if we could do a sit-down interview to discuss my late brother, who two years ago took his own life at age 45.
Things were going well until Jeannine asked: “What was the last thing you talked about?”
My darn tear ducts malfunctioned, again. Ward and I talked on the Monday before the annual BMO Vancouver Marathon and discussed meeting up at the 8K finish line to grab some food. The next day his wife called me at work and said he was dead. Part of me died at that exact moment, too. He was my best friend and sounding board, someone who kept it real and fun.
How you go from laughing and joking and making weekend plans to killing yourself in less than 12 hours remains incomprehensible to me, but as River singer Josh Groban said recently: “What looks perfect on the outside can be totally opposite on the inside. The person who appears to have it all can be the most troubled soul on the planet. We need to talk about this.”
The Lower Mainland running community has been my saviour since. Good people, doing fun things, some faster than others! And we push each other, and pull each other along if necessary. Our common bond is we never give up no matter how tough the road or trail gets. Our hope is that you don’t either.
This year’s Moustache Miler, set for Saturday, Nov. 23 in Coal Harbour and Stanley Park, includes a 1-mile kids’ race at 10 a.m. and 5K race at 10:45 a.m. There will be a post-race party starting at 11 a.m.
Participants in this fun volunteer-run event will receive finisher’s medals, snacks and swag, plus other surprises at Stanley Park Brewpub. You can grow a Mo, or tape one on for the memorable morning. There will be prizes for best costume, best team costume and best moustache.
Most importantly there will be a conversation. As Laurell K. Hamilton recently said: “There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” And actress Glenn Close: “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, more unashamed conversation.”
See you at the Moustache Miler. Grow (or bring) a Mo and save a bro. Your future happiness could depend on it.
Tweet of the Week
This from Walter Downey of Vancouver, who besides collecting a ton of Air Miles, continues to get better with age as he crushes six marathon majors in 2019:
FINISH LINES: Congrats to Gwen McFarlan, a co-founder of the Richmond-based Forever Young Club, for setting a course, B.C. and Canadian record at the recent Victoria half-marathon in the women’s 85 to 89 years of age division in an impressive time of 2:18. … Registration for RUN VAN’s popular First Half Half will start Wednesday, Nov. 13. That bad boy, which I completed in 2019 on the coldest day of the year, sells out in a hurry. The 2020 event goes Feb. 9. … The Phantom Run trail races are set to go on Saturday, Nov. 16. The Foretrails Run Series’ event on the North Shore is serving up three distances — 12K, 19.5K and 25K, with all the action getting underway at 8:30 a.m. Feel free to wear a costume. I dressed as a sloth last year and might do the same this year! … The Vancouver Historic Half, which includes 5K and 10K distances as well, goes Sunday, Nov. 24 at Stanley Park. The event wraps up a successful season for Try Events. … The Vancouver Sun Run, aiming to attract 45,000-plus for the 2020 10K race on Sunday, April 19, has opened its registration. … Cool race director Jared Hulme, offering this scribe extra large chocolate chip cookies and pizza if I take part in the 2020 Steveston Icebreaker 8K, had me at cookies, so I’m in! The always awesome event takes place on Sunday, Jan. 19. … The fifth annual Big Elf Run, set for Saturday, Dec. 14 at Stanley Park, is gearing up for its best event yet. This holiday-themed run, hosted by the always-in-holiday-theme-mode Baxter Bayer and his Running Tours Inc. helpers, offers a 5K, 10K and 15K run/walk this year, along with a 1K Wee Elf Run/Walk and medals. The event gets going at 1 p.m. near Lumbermen’s Arch. … The 36th Gunner Shaw cross-country race, staged by the Lions Gate Road Runners, will be held on Saturday, Dec. 7, starting at Jericho Park. Seniors run two laps of the fun/challenging 5K course, while juniors go once. Did I mention I changed my name to Junior?
Gotta run …