A Father's Journey: 100 Marathon VAR Raises Awareness for Mental Illness
When it's all going negative, and you can't even remember what it was like to be positive, how do you turn that around?
For Guy Fessenden, a longtime and well-respected VAR who had fallen on hard times following his daughter's diagnosis of mental illness, the change came when he decided to take action again.
Fessenden had lost his marriage and his business and taken a series of uninspiring jobs because he could not focus. He spent his time watching TV.
"I was sitting on my couch watching other people live," he told me. "That's not how I wanted to live. Also I didn't want my three children to see this. I wanted to do something that would benefit my daughter."
Inspired by British comedian Eddie Izzard's successful effort to run 43 marathon distances, combined with his own desire to raise awareness of and funding for mental illness, Fessenden concocted his own scheme - to run across the continental United States doing 100 marathon distances in 140 days.
Fessenden set off on October 2, 2010 from Savannah, Ga., running for three days and resting for one and then running for three more. Each of his running days he did the marathon distance of 26.2 miles and consumed 6,000 calories. He originally had planned to chart his course by looking to maps of running trails from individual states. But then he remembered the Google Maps "get directions" feature and chose the pedestrian path which took him across the country on Route 80.
But the road hasn't been an easy one. Taking Route 80 meant that he shared the route with cars and trucks, a scary prospect in this age of distracted drivers who are texting and driving. And running at the side of the road meant one foot would always hit lower than the other foot following the slope of the road - higher in the middle and lower at the sides.
I spoke with Guy when he was closer to the beginning of his journey in mid-October and just starting on his second pair of running shoes. I asked him if anything hurt.
"I view myself as an entrepreneur. People have asked me what you think the most important attributes are to being successful in that world. My answer was you have to have a remarkably high pain threshold and you have to be too stupid to quit. As an entrepreneur, nobody cares if you succeed. You are one little guy. You are a rounding error. It's up to you to say screw this, I'm going to stick with it."
But guess what? Lots of people care about Fessenden's Herculean effort. Over 1,700 have "Like"-ed the Facebook Page dedicated to his effort and Fessenden has also been posting his progress over here at a blog, A Father's Journey, dedicated to his journey and more importantly to his daughter, Suzanne.
Fessenden's daughter is 28 years old and suffers from schizophrenia and depression. She has hallucinations and hears voices. "These voices tell her she is an awful, terrible person who is a burden and unlovable and that she should kill herself. She wakes up in the morning and the first thing she does before opening her eyes is cover her ears," Fessenden writes in the blog. "Yet to anyone who has been fortunate to meet her, Suzanne is the most caring, sensitive and intuitive person I have ever met. Her ability to love and care for others while living her personal hell is truly remarkable."
Guy told me that his daughter, who has spent about seven of the last 12 years in psychiatric hospitals, was initially troubled by her dad's plans to do the 100 marathon challenge across the country.
"She was worried if anything happened to me it would be a disaster for her because she felt it would be her fault," he told me. But he explained that although he never was a runner: "I trained 3 plus hours a day six days a week to be able to do this."
Fessenden's journey has had another affect on his daughter. It's helped her come out about her illness. One of the challenges for victims of mental illness is that they are fighting on two fronts - the illness itself and the stigma that goes along with the illness.
"Now she's standing up and getting a little bit more attention," Fessenden told me. "She had to make a real life choice to say 'I am schizophrenic, I hear voices and I hallucinate.' That was a heroic statement for her to make. She's not hiding it anymore."
Fessenden will complete his trek on Saturday, February 19, at 3 pm, dipping his toes into the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, Calif. Plenty of people are expected to show up to dip their toes in, too, all to celebrate this amazing father's journey.
Fessenden's fund raising goes to organizations that help fight mental illness and raise awareness for it. You can contribute to the cause at his blog.