Blistered but unbowed, B.C. man runs 164 km to fund Merritt mental health program

Click to play video '20-year-old B.C. man runs ultramarathon to raise money for mental health' 20-year-old B.C. man runs ultramarathon to raise money for mental health
20-year-old Merritt resident Darius Sam has run an ultramarathon to raise money for mental health care in his community. Linda Aylesworth reports – Dec 7, 2020

A young Merritt man has completed a 100-mile (164-kilometre) ultramarathon to raise money for men’s mental health in his community.

Exhausted and with blistered feet, Darius Sam completed the trek from Nicola Lake to Spences Bridge and back around 5 p.m. Sunday.

It’s the second time Sam has made the attempt, but the first that he’s completed the full distance.

Read more: B.C. teen finishes ultramarathon for food bank after brief hospitalization

In June, the 20-year-old tried to do the same distance in 24 hours, with just 28 days of training, to raise money for the local food bank.

He ended up briefly hospitalized for dehydration, and while he finished the run, he missed an 18-kilometre stretch near the end.

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Emotional end for B.C. ultra-marathon runner Darius Sam – Jun 15, 2020

This time, Sam was determined to go the distance.

“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned to hydrate more properly, I’ve learned to take my nutrition more seriously along the way,” Sam told Global News before setting out Saturday morning. “Just train harder.”

This time, Sam was raising money for Nicola Valley Family Therapy to create a free men’s mental health and addictions counselling program in Merritt.

“For any man who walks through the door, they don’t have to pay a single dime to talk about their feelings and to seek therapy and seek emotional support. I feel like the whole community is behind me in this,” he said.

“(I want to) bring more sunlight to the topic. And obviously, it’s more topical now because of COVID. People are dying out here.”

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Read more: ‘A pandemic of its own’: How COVID-19 is impacting mental health

Sam said keeping the people struggling through COVID front of mind during the run was his key motivator.

This time around, Sam brought on personal trainer Mark Nendick to help him gear up for the run.

“He’s a different person than he was last time. I think he grew from the last experience,” Nendick said.

This time Sam’s team was prepared with plenty of water, nutrient gel packs, extra clothing and a vehicle to warm up in during night-time pit stops.

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“We’ve both struggled with mental health problems, and usually mental health leads to addiction,” Nendick said.

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“We’re going through COVID, people are struggling more than ever, and just want to raise awareness that it’s OK to talk about mental health issues, addictions issues. Especially as men, it’s kind of taboo to talk about it.”

Sam came close to giving up a couple of times in the dark hours of the early morning, but Nendick said he pushed through with encouragement from his supporters — and reminders about his personal goal to become a professional ultramarathoner.

Sam’s run raised about $5,000 for the program, something Nicola Valley Family Therapy executive director Sherry Bishop said will go a long way for her small organization.

The group does not have funding for men’s therapy, but gets frequent calls or walk-ins from people seeking help, she said.

Read more: Canadians’ mental health further declining during COVID-19 2nd wave: study

“When we have somebody like Darius come to the door and say, ‘how can I help you,’ it just really touches our hearts and shows us how much this community cares about all the people in the community and the services they need,” Bishop said.

While Sam has completed his mission, he’s still hoping to boost the fundraising total.

Anyone who wants to contribute can make a donation through his GoFundMe campaign.