A day after competing in June’s 5-mile Italy Run in humid New York City’s undulating Central Park, I swapped runners for loafers and paid an emotional and unforgettable visit to ground zero.
I expected tears, photos, prayers and protests at the massive site where the world as we knew it stopped turning on 9/11. But it was the massive crowd around the Survivor Tree, the last living thing to come out of the rubble on the otherwise obliterated property, that caught me off guard.
The pear tree that against all odds somehow survived the terrorist carnage, fires and collapsing towers, has literally taken on a new life since being repaired and replanted at the National September 11 Memorial site. It is now a symbol of hope, strength, resilience and rebirth in NYC, especially with the locals.
The fifth Vancouver Moustache Miler, held Saturday morning in chilly but rain-free Stanley Park, represented a Survivor Tree of sorts for many of its participants who are dealing with the excruciating loss of loved ones through suicide or cancer, or who know people trying to navigate around serious illnesses, depression, anxiety or bullying. To borrow a beautiful line from ground zero, it’s in Darkness We Shine Brightest.
The Mo Miler, with its themed costumes, camaraderie and plethora of moustaches (real and fake), looks like an adrenalin-fuelled exercise party to passersby, mostly because organizers want it that way. But behind the 2019 “Stache Stampede” and its mechanical bull Moe, the cowpoke theme and bells, contests, brunch and beverages at Stanley Park Brewing Restaurant and Brewpub, is a more serious Movember message of “speaking up” and “saving bros.”
Consider this: More than 3,000 Canadians die by suicide every year, it is the second leading cause of death for Canadian males between 15 and 44 years of age, and worldwide one person takes his or her own life EVERY MINUTE. Heck, we can get our knickers in a knot over an 85-year-old hockey commentator saying “you people” in a disjointed poppy rant but we’re speechless about suicide and depression claiming or wrecking lives by the minute. Go figure.
Fortunately, the Moustache Miler is working to be an agent of overdue change. Saturday people woke up, spoke up and cranked it up, especially Declan White of Burnaby who won the 5K in 16:19 — 32 seconds ahead of runner-up James Lamers. The top woman, and eighth overall, was Andrea Lee of North Van in 18:49.
Debra Kato, who usually takes pictures of Lower Mainland races, had fun earlier this month appearing in one at the Movember Undie Run presented by SAXX. The 2K run was held in Toronto and Vancouver to support men’s health and promote the Mo Miler.
Thanks to returning race director Shannon Banal and Jeannine Avelino of CTV, yours truly was afforded an opportunity to appear on live TV in Vancouver, and on the educational Moustache Miler video channel to share the story of my youngest brother Ward who unexpectedly took his own life two years ago and my father-in-law Dennis Hill‘s successful battle to tame the demons of depression caused by years of chronic pain.
We know we’re never really out of the woods with that, and understand unexpected setbacks (death of a loved one, diminishing health or unexpected pressures) can trigger another “bout of darkness.” But like runners, we put one foot before the other and refuse to quit. And we’re not afraid to ask for help in our pursuit of new happiness, especially after learning the hardest way possible that “everything is fine” can be deceptive as hell.
Dennis, by the way, won his 70-plus age division Saturday, while my mother-in-law Linda won hers. I, on the other hand, asked a few ladies who put the grrrrrr in cowgirl if they’d help me build my own podium to curtail the bragging!
I received heartfelt messages from friends and strangers who thanked me for speaking up this year. Many also shared their painful stories, pictures and “secrets” to moving forward, mostly through exercise, treatment and support groups/friends. Suicide or depression’s collateral carnage isn’t a group you want to join, trust me. But there is a way out.
I was doing well Saturday until a lady, who saw both the Moustache Miler video and our TV appearance on CTV, came over and gave me a hug and shared that a family member took her own life a year ago. Damn tear ducts got a better workout than my feet after that. We learn to rise above, but thankfully we have support and friends and the Mo Miler crowd.
This year’s event, likely the best yet, had sheriff stars for first-time racers and volunteers, they had a 1 mile kids’ race, and a mechanical bull, because as one runner who enjoys the bar scene put it: “it’s obviously not in use until a few evening beers too many!”
There were a number of clubs challenging each other, a couple in unicorn suits (the loveliest of them all, of course), Debra Kato in her wild Western attire, adorable kids in multicolour moustaches, and my in-laws in “tacky tourist outfits” because some writer, who will remain unnamed, forgot to mention the cowboy/cowgirl theme. My bad!
There are a number of great organizations to deal with mental health issues, including Michael Landsberg‘s Sick Not Weak organization, Movember Canada and HeadsUPGuys. The best one, in my books, is the Moustache Miler. I’ll be back next year for sure. And the year after, maybe with a real moustache next time and perhaps a few less props! Giddy up, indeed!
Gord Kurenoff of The Vancouver Sun, and Taylor Smith of the Moustache Miler, right, appeared on CTV Morning Live in Vancouver on Monday to talk about the fifth Mo Miler in Canada. Marke Driesschen and Keri Adams conducted the informative interview. (Moustache Miler photo)