• Oct. 4 walk, run, bike and blade event to raise mental health, suicide awareness resonating in Elk River
by Jim Boyle
The Thumbs Up High 5K – a walk, run, bike and in-line skate event for mental health and suicide awareness – is gaining traction.
Nearly 300 people have signed up, including more than 50 children, for the Oct. 4 event in downtown Elk River, which will feature a special send-off by KSTP sportscaster Joe Schmit and lots of activity after the walking, running, biking and blading are done.
“I feel like the event is already helping people,” said Katie Shatusky, 32, of Elk River, who said she battles depression and has lost both friends and family members to the disease. “The people who have lost people don’t want their family members forgotten.”
“At the very least people will seek out a close friend or family member to talk to if they think they are depressed.”
Shatusky said people need to know there is all kinds of help out there.
She lost a second cousin to suicide as a child.
There were a string of youth who completed suicide attempts while she was a student at Elk River High School.
And then as a young woman she lost Bob Schmit, her grandfather, to a completed suicide.
“That amplified everything,” she said. “It’s so painful.”
Shatusky battled through her losses, eventually beating back some of the hurt through counseling and exercise. The pain of loss still runs deep, but its better having sought help and being proactive about her health. After the loss of her grandfather, Shatusky said she was faced with a decision
“What am I going to do about this?” she asked herself. “I decided to bring people together and help them heal.”
The seed was planted for a communitywide event at that moment. It germinated with a Valentine’s Day gift from her husband, Todd. It was an autographed copy of Joe Schmit’s book, “Silent Impact: Stories of Influence through Purpose, Persistence and Passion.” Joe Schmit is a family friend of Bob and Val Schmit (no relation).
“Bob was a wonderful man who battled depression and ultimately depression won,” Schmit said. “He was salt of the earth guy, a good family man who always had a joke and always had a smile.
“I did not know the demons that were there, so that’s probably a lesson to be learned.”
Shatusky called the book the best Valentine’s Day gift she ever got. Schmit’s book looked at how people make the biggest impressions when they are not trying to be impressive.
“The words we say or don’t say, the things we do or don’t do, and the way we react or don’t react all work together to make a powerful impact on those around us,” Schmit writes in his book. “It’s in our daily interactions that we make either a positive or negative impact.”
He writes in the book about Joe Mauer, who as a wildly popular high school student and gifted athlete, chose to sit not at the “cool” lunch table high school at Cretin Derham Hall but rather next to a blind student.
He recounts how the that decision still makes an impact today on the students who joined Mauer at the table, the teachers who taught Mauer and learned from him and others who watched the interactions between Joe and the disabled student, Mike Hally.
Schmit said there’s also a story in the book about a woman who credits a classmate for saving her life when he stepped in and thwarted a bully. It was a star athlete who told the kid to never bother the girl again or he was going to have to deal with him. The girl – who had been bullied many times before by this person, was suffering the loss of her grandparent and had an absent father who had just left for good – never forgot that day. She had been planning to go home a swallow a bunch of pills in hopes of taking her life. She didn’t and all these years later, she reached out to email this man and thank him for his impact.
“You never know when you’re going to be that person and sometimes we all have to be a little more aware and say something nice instead of being critical,” Schmit said. “It’s really the little things that turn out to be the big things.”
Shatusky said reading the book was inspiration for her to assemble the Thumbs Up High 5K, a salute to her grandfather who was always giving people thumbs-ups in his everyday life.
“I give Katie a lot of credit,” Schmit said. “She’s an amazing gal. Until you try to organize something like this, without having a support staff, you have no idea what you’re getting into. Talk about silent impact.”
Shatusky has surrounded herself with a team of more than 85 volunteers. Many of them are from Elk River High School’s Yellow Ribbon suicide prevention group as well as other school groups. There also friends and community members helping out.
“I love the idea that it’s grassroots, neighbors helping neighbors, and I love the idea that they’re tackling a subject many people are not comfortable with,” Schmit said. “But we have to get real. Depression is a big, big issue. Mental illness is an issue we need to talk about and tackle.”
More on Schmit
Schmit has been speaking to leadership groups, associations and companies for several years on the power of their influence, and the topic often came up afterward as to whether he had written a book.
“I kept hearing, ‘Do you have a book,’” Schmit said. “I want to pass this message on to my son or people who work with me. I thought I better write a book.”
Schmit, who made his career on 90-second stories, said it was intimidating but doable with the help of a Texas firm that helped him organize his topic matter, a good editor and a good designer.
Schmit tells of making big impressions while not trying to be impressive with short stories he’s come across during his 35-year career as an anchor and sports journalist.
He has concluded: “We all need to be a little bit more aware and more intentional about the impact we’re having on other people.”
The book is used as part of curriculum as part of yearlong projects at three Minnesota high schools and at many businesses.
Schmit’s Oct. 4 appearance will not be his typical speaking engagement. He said he expects to offer a simple message of being more aware of the impact we have on others.
“I’ll probably talk about about praising more and condemning less and tell an appropriate story or two,” Schmit said.
He will have books available and half of the sales will go back to the Thumbs Up High 5K, which will stay local to benefit the Elk River High School Yellow Ribbon suicide prevention group and other efforts to raise awareness about mental illness.
“I’m honored to do this,” Schmit said. “I’m doing it in honor of my buddy.”