By Chris Rotolo |
RUMSON – When the group of student organizers at the reins of Sunday’s Ridge Road Run first began planning the event, they estimated that, if the weather cooperated, as a best-case scenario the inaugural road race and fundraiser would draw between 700 and 800 participants.
Mother Nature was anything but accommodating, as gusting winds and whipping rains dampened the course, but she failed to douse the spirit of an event that drew nearly 1,500 registered racers to blaze a trail from Bellevue Avenue up to Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH) in an effort to raise awareness about mental health issues in the community, as well as funding for the Mental Health Association of Monmouth County (MHA) and the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AMSP).
“It was amazing to see this idea come to life and the emotion it brought out of people who were part of it,” said Claudia Kelly, a Red Bank Regional High School (RBR) sophomore and one of the event organizers. “Unfortunately suicide has been a prominent issue in our Ridge Road community and we didn’t know what type of impact this event would have. But it really seemed like it gave emotional support and comfort to some people who needed it.”
According to Michael Eulner, another student organizer and senior at RBR, the event raised more than $120,000, with approximately $50,000 in sponsorships, $40,000 from race registrations and $35,000 in individual donations.
“We honestly didn’t expect this to be as successful a fundraiser as it was,” admitted Eulner, who personally collected the donations and will evenly distribute them to the event’s beneficiaries.
“Realistically I was expecting to generate about $60,000. But we doubled the expected amount of registered runners. We more than doubled the amount of money raised. I just think it shows how important the issue of mental health is to our community and how meaningful this event was,” Eulner added.
At the heart of this 5k for suicide prevention was an effort to abolish the stigma of mental health issues. Student organizers believe the negative connotation associated with mental illnesses is a harmful misperception and a notion that may keep those who are suffering from seeking assistance.
“We recently lost a fellow student in our community and a friend,” said Kelly, referencing the suicide this past October of 16-year-old RFH student-athlete Pierce Jarck. “I hope this is a first step that lets the kids around us know that it’s OK to come out and open up about their problems, that it’s OK to ask for help.”
Stacey Donovan, chief development officer of the MHA, called the efforts of Eulner, Kelly and their fellow student organizers – Thomas Lloyd of RBR; Ellie Gibney and Teddy Sourlis of RFH; and Courtney Carroll and Lily Salcedo of Red Bank Catholic – groundbreaking. She believes the Ridge Road Run will have a significant impact on erasing the stigma in the community.
“The stigma and bias that still exists really does prevent many people from seeking treatment,” Donovan said. “The students should be commended for putting this race together and coordinating this effort. They bravely came forward to give a voice to the voiceless, to those who have been afraid to ask for help because of the stigma. What they have done is truly groundbreaking.”
The student organizers hope they will be able to see their substantial donations in action, with further educational programming and aid from the MHA and AMSP in their school communities.
“I’d like to see the money we raised really have an impact at home,” Eulner said. “I hope the organizations will use the money in a way that shows us what they were able to do with it. I hope it goes a long way toward helping kids in need. And I hope it helps set a strong and meaningful foundation for the future of this event.”
According to Donovan, RFH is one of 50 schools in Monmouth County where the MHA has instituted its Lifelines initiative, a comprehensive suicide awareness and responsiveness program for teens that is implemented for free, an action made possible by donations like the one provided by the Ridge Road Run.
Donovan also confirmed that the funds raised from the event will go toward helping the Lifelines program reach 50 additional schools in the 2018-19 school year, as well as expand MHA’s educational offerings, counseling efforts and other wellness services.
“We couldn’t be more thankful to these remarkable youths for their incredible fundraising efforts and for working with us to spread the message that there is no health without mental health,” said Wendy DePedro, CEO of MHA of Monmouth County. “The voice of our youth has never been more important in changing minds and saving lives.”
Plans for the second annual Ridge Road Run are already in the works, an endeavor that will be headed by Kelly, who will return to Red Bank Regional in the fall for her senior year.
Ridge Road Run Results
Male 5k Overall
- Ben Santos (Age 15), 17:54.5; 2. Arthur Mazzeo (Age 16), 18:16.3; 3. David Craig (Age 49, Long Branch), 18:48; 4. Bryan Heller (Age 33, Shrewsbury), 18:58.9; 5. Brendan Connors (Age 15, Rumson) 19:13.6.
Female 5k Overall
1.Jessica Cini (Age 39, Rumson) 20:06.5; 2. Paige Kelly (Age 13, Little Silver), 21:09.5; 3. Courtney Sullivan (Age 37, Rumson), 21:13.8; 4. Susan Flynn (Age 46, Rumson), 21:40.6; 5. Mia James (Age 15, Tinton Falls), 21:41.4
- Alexa Pucci (Age 13, Rumson), 24:27.3; Hannah Nitka (Age 11), 24:43.6; Lleyke Dunnican (Age 14, Bradley Beach), 24:51.3; 4. Shannon Kelly (Age 11, Lanoka Harbor), 25:03.5; 5. Maya Lee (Age 14, Fair Haven), 25:43.1.
- Patrick Simpson (Age 13, Rumson), 22:57.7; 2. Max Brignola (Age 14, Fair Haven), 23:59.7; 3. Alex Simpson (Age 14, Rumson), 24:51.4; 4. Dylan Haley (Age 14, Rumson) 24:54.6; 5. Matthew Kelly (Age 11, Little Silver), 27:09.8.
- Mia James (Age 15, Tinton Falls), 21:41.4; 2. Brynn Pritchard (Age 15, Rumson); 3. Ashley Kreiger (Age 18), 23:43.3; 4. Jordan Johnson (Age 16, Rumson); 5. Cassie James (Age 17; Tinton Falls), 24:34.2.
- Kevin Buck (Age 15, Rumson), 20:00.7; 2. Liam Horan (Age 16, Fair Haven), 20:20.9; 3. Finn Smith (Age 17, Little Silver), 20:36; 4. Pj Velcamp (Age 19, Rumson), 20:43.7; 5. Joseph Aglione (Age 15) 21:48.8.
- RFH Wrestling, 37:30:20.8; 2. Running with the Bulls, 37:37:54.5; 3. Woodys Ocean Grille 1, 37:39:20.5; 4. RFH Girls Lacrosse, 37:39:20.5; RFH Lax, 37:41:29.1; 6. RFH Wrestling 2, 37:42:03.9; 7. Moore more more, 37:43:44.1; 8. RFH Boys Lacrosse, 37:44:18.9; 9. RFH SEA, 37:46:09.3; 10. Woody’s Ocean Grille 2, 37:47:14.8.
This article was first published in the April 19-26, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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