Man runs for suicide preventionPublished 10:40pm Thursday, August 28, 2014
A Pulaski man ran and walked through Suffolk Thursday afternoon on the first leg of what could be a cross-country journey to bring attention to suicide prevention.
Running a lengthy distance started as a childhood fantasy for Tony Smith, who was influenced by the running scene in the Tom Hanks film “Forrest Gump.”
But in his early teens, Smith suffered from his first severe bout of depression. His parents were sick, the family was poor because his parents couldn’t work, and Smith’s young mind thought he was destined to suffer from the same illnesses.
“You have narrow perspective when you’re 13,” Smith said on Thursday. “You don’t understand that in life, there’s valleys, then there’s peaks.”
He contemplated suicide at that young age but then got better, partially by using running as an outlet.
“It was something to look forward to and made me feel good,” he said.
Smith convinced himself it was a phase he had grown out of, until he fought depression again as a young college graduate. He had majored in psychology and Christian counseling at Liberty University.
He began to contemplate the possibility of a cross-country run to bring attention to suicide prevention. He had planned it for next year and started doing training runs, dedicating each one to people who died of suicide whose names were submitted by loved ones on his website.
But then, earlier this year, Smith fought his third battle with depression. During Smith’s road to recovery, actor Robin Williams committed suicide, and Smith knew he had to do something.
He quit his job with the U.S. Postal Service and decided the time was now or never. He left his Pulaski home Aug. 16 to head to Virginia Beach, where he’ll arrive in time to participate in the Rock’n’Roll Half-Marathon on Sunday.
The timing couldn’t have been better to raise awareness of suicide, he said. He believes God led him to be walking through Petersburg on Monday, the same day a soldier at nearby Fort Lee committed suicide. Smith is also a soldier, a member of a Lynchburg Army National Guard unit.
After seeing how his body holds up in this first leg and talking to his family, he’ll make the decision whether to go ahead with his plans to run across the country, he said.
“If I decide to continue, I’m going to commit to going to San Francisco,” he said.
Smith said folks along the way have been very supportive so far. He’s received free lunch at restaurants and free hotel stays thanks to people who have sponsored him.
“People are just rallying around me,” he said. “They’re really touched by what’s going on.”
Smith pushes a jogging stroller carrying his laptop, changes of clothes and supplies. He runs most of the time but is forced to walk when he has to move to the shoulder and there’s no sidewalk.
“Sidewalks are pure heaven,” he joked.