Austin Johnson trains on the Centennial Trail in Lake Stevens. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Austin Johnson trains on the Centennial Trail in Lake Stevens. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

24 hours, 80 miles, $23k raised for mental health

Austin Johnson completes a 24-hour run along the Centennial Trail to raise money for suicide prevention.

By all accounts, Austin Johnson’s 24-hour run this past weekend was a massive success.

He completed his goal of running 24 straight hours along the Centennial Trail in Lake Stevens. He logged more than 80 miles and 133,000 steps. So far, he has raised more than $23,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

But for the 26-year-old Snohomish County native, whose story was featured in the Feb. 17 edition of The Herald, the most rewarding part was the response from the community.

Johnson said he was blown away by how many people reached out — either during the run or over the course of the past month — to offer encouragement and share stories about how mental-health struggles have impacted them or their family.

“There had to have been close to 100 people throughout the day that randomly stopped by and came out to show their support,” Johnson said. “People (were) driving by the trail honking. Just all kinds of stuff. To see the outreach from the community was super cool.

“I can’t name how many people said, ‘Thanks for giving me a tiny bit of hope this week. I’ve been having a tough time.’ … So many people just let me know that, through the story, they felt a little glimmer of hope.”

Johnson, a Mountlake Terrace High School graduate, has battled depression since childhood. After reaching a low point about 2 1/2 years ago, he started running. At first, he struggled to make it even a half-mile. But over time, he developed into an ultra-runner who has completed a handful of marathon-length runs, a 50-miler and now an 80-miler.

To raise money and awareness for suicide prevention and mental health, Johnson ran back and forth along a 2.5-mile out-and-back loop on the Centennial Trail this past weekend from 7 a.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday.

Johnson said the first half of the run went really well. But he started hitting a wall around 11 p.m. Saturday — at about the 16-hour mark.

“I had a good hour between like 11 and midnight where I was really struggling,” he said. “That was definitely the hardest point. … I knew and kind of had accepted that that was going to be the absolute hardest (part) of the entire 24 hours. So if I could just kind of get through that wall and break through onto the other side, I knew it wasn’t going to get any harder.

“And sure enough, that hour or so kind of passed. … My legs started feeling better, I got a second wind of energy, I ate some food and started running again. It’s kind of like life. It just kind of comes in waves — highs and lows, good and bad.”

Johnson said about 15 cross country runners from Lake Stevens High School and Cavelero Mid High School in Lake Stevens joined him for two separate stretches of his run.

Numerous people also stopped by at the start of his loop near the trailhead, where his family was stationed at a pop-up tent.

“Whenever I passed by, I’d see my family talking to different people from the community,” he said. “I’d try to stop at the end of the loop and introduce myself and say hi. Just so many people (were) sharing their own personal stories with me, which was just incredibly humbling and sad and just kind of a big mix of emotions. It was really cool to get to know these people, to get to meet them (and) hear a little bit about their story.”

Johnson said that when he began the fundraiser on GoFundMe, he never imagined it would come anywhere close to the amount that’s been raised so far. As of Wednesday afternoon, it was more than $23,000. He plans to continue the fundraiser until March 1.

“(My goal) started at $2,000, and I truly was so hesitant to even set it that high, because I just didn’t think that we could even reach that,” he said. “… But now we have the opportunity to make a tangible difference for this organization. They do a lot of good. They’re going to be able to use that money to provide actual services to people.”

But for Johnson, fundraising was only part of his mission. He said he hopes that sharing his story sparks dialogue about mental health, and that it encourages those who are struggling to take the all-important first step of opening up and asking for help.

“Even looking at statistics, I don’t think that you realize just how prevalent suicide and mental illness is just right here in our own community,” he said. “And so to be able to hear these people’s stories and to put a face to those statistics, … it was a really (powerful) thing to not just look at it as numbers, but to actually put families and friends and faces to these tragic stories.

“It was a really cool and humbling experience in many different ways.”

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