5k Race Pushes Stigma to The Finish Line

Rainy weather didn’t stop more than 120 racers from participating in Hudson Valley’s sixth annual 5K Race Away Stigma, which kicked off on Oct. 18 at the Student Pavillion.

“We’ve done this before in worse weather,” said Larry Ellis, associate director of student development. Ellis founded the race in 2009 and has organized and participated in every race since then.

“The gloomy weather is appropriate. It resonates that mental illness is real,” said Annelise Williams, program coordinator for Equinox, Inc., an Albany nonprofit organization that provides services to people living with mental illness.

Equinox organized Race Away Stigma in collaboration with Hudson Valley’s Center of Counseling and Transfer and Hudson Valley’s Project Aware, a peer education and community awareness program.

Nearly 120 students, faculty, and community members pre-registered for the event. Estimates put the total number of registered guests above last year’s. Participants paid $20 for pre-registration and $25 for same day registration. Proceeds went to Project Aware.

Participants from Hudson Valley and all over the Capital Region competed, bringing a variety of goals to the starting line.

“This was a great turnout,” said Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Development Alexander Popovics. Popovics was there to support his daughter, Sarah Popovics, who is the interim cross country coach and placed first among female runners in the competition.

“I’ve worked a lot with people who have mental issues but I know people personally that I’ve struggled with,” said Kirsten Wendth, currently pursuing a Master’s degree in counseling at the University of Boston.

Tyler Rondo, a physical education major who had trained for the event since August, completed the race with a time of 18:57, making him the top male runner in the competition.

“It feels great. This is my first time running this race, and I was happy to be a part of this cause,” said Rondo.

“College is full of stress and for people who have difficult mental health, stress is a big trigger and sometimes people with difficult mental health don’t even know how to deal with regular stress. They need to know that they can get help,” said Erika Pelletier, early childhood education student and student senator, discussing the importance of the Race Away Stigma event.

“A lot of [freshman] students didn’t even know it was such an issue until we had this walk,” said My’Asia Colon, vice president of the student senate. “It’s a great way to tie together the community and get everyone aware about mental health.”

Student Senate support helps bring some of the lessons learned by Project Aware to the campus scene.

“It’s made us more aware of different mental illnesses that before Project Aware, I didn’t know of,” said Christine Corral, a human services major.

“People think we don’t know what we’re talking about, but everybody experiences a form of the mental illnesses we talk about every day,” she said, listing anxiety and depression as the most common mental illnesses among college students.

“You got to see everybody’s different reactions and how they feel. Even though [anxiety] is so common for what everybody has to deal with, it’s dealt [with] differently,” said human services major Joe Farrell.

He added, “Seeing people’s reactions, you get a much bigger sense of what it means to them.”

Alyssa Soto, a human services major, said, “Being a part of [Project Aware] just changes your entire perspective on mental illness.”

Soto continued, “You couldn’t see the difference between a regular person and a regular person with anxiety. It doesn’t happen until it happens. By this participation it reassures everyone that everybody is going through the same thing.”

Equinox, Inc. serves more than 5,000 people each year. Besides providing services for adults, youth, and families living with mental illness, the organization provides services for victims of domestic violence, adults and youth with chemical dependency, urban teens and young adults, and homeless youth.

Other organizations involved at the event included Ellis Medicine, Samaritan Behavioral Health Services, Next Generation, the Hudson Valley student senate, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Road ID and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.


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