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Walk, run planned to erase suicide stigma

We have cancer walks and we have memorial runs, but this weekend, Hastings will hold its first suicide walk.

It's called the Waffle Walk, and registration begins at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Hastings Country Club. The walk/run event is an effort coordinated by a few Hastings people - Laura Gustafson, Erica Bauer and Chris Caulkins.

Each has their own reasons for giving voice to suicide awareness, but they all share a desire to remove the stigmas surrounding it.

"Everyone has been affected by it," Gustafson said.

The numbers are alarming. Suicide Awareness Voices for Education (SAVE), a national suicide awareness organization, states that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Minnesota, the second leading cause of death in 15- to 34-year-olds, and the third leading cause of death for 35- to 44-year-olds.

"It's just unbelievable," Caulkins said.

Caulkins lost his wife to suicide in 2003. Her condition was being treated, but when they tried to have children, her doctor told her to stop taking her medicine for fear of what it might do to an unborn child. Stopping the medication proved fatal.

"She just didn't recover from it," he said.

Then, in 2008, he lost his younger brother Jeremy, a Hastings High School graduate, to suicide. There were some indications that Jeremy was suffering, Caulkins said, but any time someone tried to bring it up, Jeremy would convince them that he was fine.

"He hid a lot, even from us," Caulkins said. "And we did not understand the magnitude of what he was going through."

Jeremy, Caulkins said, had given in to the stigma surrounding depression. Some people say depression is something a person can overcome with enough determination, he said, and that it's not a real problem.

"It's a chemical imbalance in the brain," he explained.

"It's not feeling sad. It's the inability to feel good. And all that's left is feeling awful."

Had Jeremy not given into the stigma, there's a possibility he could have gotten the help he needed.

"I think he would have been more open about it and maybe we could have helped him," Caulkins said.

Erasing the stigma is one of the goals the Waffle Walk is taking on.

"I just think it's really important that, finally, as a community, we come together and address this," Bauer said.

The moment that struck her was when her job took her into SAVE's offices, where she saw a memorial board bearing the names of people who had been lost to suicide. On that board, she saw three names from Hastings that she recognized.

"People don't talk about it," she said. "It's taboo. But unfortunately, it's happening all around us."

The walk/run on Sunday will try to raise awareness in a few ways. In the three-mile walk itself, signs will be posted with information about suicide and depression. Before it all begins, there will be a speaker.

"I think everyone's going to take away something different," Gustafson said.

The other part of the event is the fundraiser. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children if paid in advance, or $15 for adults and $10 for children the day of. All the funds raised will be donated to SAVE to aid the organization's efforts. Donations and pre-registration can be made online at www.firstgiving. com/wafflewalk.

The route begins at the Country Club and loops around the golf course on Westview and Southview drives and Pine and 15th streets.

Participants are invited to bring items to remember friends and loved ones who have died by suicide. After the run/walk, a waffle social with "icky sticky gooey" waffles and other breakfast foods will be held indoors at the Country Club.

Gustafson said they hope to get about 150 people at the event. Registration goes from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Runners will hit the road at 10 a.m. and walkers will begin at 10:15 a.m.

For more information or to volunteer, call Bauer at 952-681-8923 or Gustafson at 612-669-6210.