By Nick Wojton, contributing writer
OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego community gathered outside Hewitt Union on the SUNY Oswego campus over the weekend to participate in the fourth annual Suicide Prevention “Stride to Save Lives” event.
The 5k run was attended by more than 200 people and raised more than $15,000 for the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) benefit.
At 10:30 a.m. the 5k for runners kicked off despite rainy conditions, and then following guest speakers, the group of more than 200 walked the 3.1-mile course together.
When he was 19, two years after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Kevin Hines attempted to take his own life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. He is one of 33 to survive the fall and he is also the only survivor who is actively spreading the message of living mentally healthy around the country and the globe.
Hines told the large crowd his story and how important awareness is.
“(The event) symbolizes a lot, for those of us who were lost and those of us who are still here,” Hines said.
Hines jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge at a height of over 25 stories.
“As soon as I jumped, I prayed to God that I’d survive,” Hines said.
He survived the fall and now travels the country helping raise awareness for many mental health and suicide awareness gatherings.
According to Hines, his upbringing was surrounded by the death of his parents. He then began suffering from terrible pain in his back which required surgery and he was unable to walk.
This caused him the severe depression that almost took his life 12 years ago.
“Had I known there were resources that could save me; had I known there were people out there who cared, it would have been a different story,” he said.
Following the fall, Hines decided to dedicate his life to helping raise awareness of mental conditions.
“It’s my life, it’s my passion,” Hines said.
Hines travels the country telling his story and as a host he called the Oswego area “fantastic.”
“We reached out to the community and they obviously reached back,” Hines said. “The wonderful people of Oswego just want to help people.”
Mayor Tom Gillen addressed the crowd and proclaimed September 21 as Suicide Awareness Day in Oswego.
Gillen admitted, that prior to the event, he was unaware of the seriousness of the issue.
“It’s a big problem in our country,” Gillen said. “If just one person becomes aware, just like I did, it’s important.”
With the benefit being held at the college, Gillen pointed out how young adults are especially prone to stress that may cause suicidal thoughts.
“They’re under a lot of stress at this time in their life,” Gillen said. “They did a great job supporting this cause and not just this one, they do all time. These are the future teachers and leaders of this country and it’s nice to see they aren’t just college kids, but serious adults.”
Several student groups, such as the Lifestyles Center at SUNY Oswego, ran tables inside Hewitt Union and local community groups like the Port City Roller Derby team did as well.
Children had an opportunity to get their face painted or make bead jewelry while baskets were being raffled off and food and shirts were being sold, with all proceeds going to the benefit.
Outside, in the Hewitt quad, during a candlelight vigil, Jamie Leszcyznski, a co-host of the event, released doves and read off the names of people whose lives were lost due to suicide.
“It was a beautiful thing,” Hines said of the vigil.
The 5k run was won by Xander Lara, a SUNY Oswego student. Keith Ridgeway came in second place.
Prior to the event at 9 a.m., Ridgeway competed in the Cider Race in Mexico, and then headed to the 5k at SUNY Oswego right after a quick breather in his truck on the drive over.
A member of the Oswego County runners club, Ridgeway said he often competes in runs that have a good cause behind them.
“I like to do any runs that help benefits,” he said. “It makes you feel good.”
To learn more about SAVE, visit www.save.org or call 952-946-7998.
If someone is known to be suicidal, he or she must not be left alone. Proximity is the first line of defense, health care officials say.
In an emergency situation, call 911 for assistance. Preventing a suicide often takes the assistance of emergency responders.
If you need advice or more information on suicide prevention, contact the Oswego County Mental Hygiene Division at 963-5361 or the Oswego Hospital Mental Health 24-hour hotline at 343-8163.
Also, a crisis hotline is available 24 hours through the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).