A total of 15 teams gathered on the corner of Plum Street and Meridian Avenue, waiting to participate in the first suicide awareness event, Operation Bear Hug, put on by the Student Veteran Organization of Colorado State University.
The event was created to bring out members of the CSU and Fort Collins community to teach them about the hardships of dealing with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. SVO aims to educate on how to spot those who may be at risk.
The event was a collaboration between Henry Seen, Josh Fleming and Oren Pierce, all CSU students and former military members part of SVO. SVO wanted to help spread the word about suicide prevention in an unconventional way.
“(Operation Bear Hug) is another way of having the sensitive conversation (about suicide as) a fun experience and really understanding the struggle that people go through,” Seen said.
Pierce said suicide is not an easy topic to discuss and that the event aims to provide tools for those who are struggling as well as for those who can help.
The course consisted of nine physical challenges with different internal meanings, including carrying watering jugs for a short run to symbolize being weighed down. There were also four trivia and memorization challenges to give members an inside look at the topic of suicide and suicide prevention.
While teams ran the course and teams that were waiting or done, the sponsors and other members of the community gathered to listen to live music and enjoy the weather, which was planned intentionally as part of the project.
“Our mission was to reach and educate and talk about suicide awareness in a non-traditional fashion to as many people as possible,” Fleming said.
He explained that the music and the lively environment made the learning something that would not make people run the course in tears.
After all the teams ran the race and times had been added up, it was announced that the winner of the event was Poudre Valley Fire Authority, who beat the second place team by only seven seconds.
After receiving their prize, PFA donated the $250 prize back to the organization.
A large list of sponsors donated to the event, with the largest coming from Poudre Sports Car, which donated $1,000 for the prize money for the top eight teams with the best times, with teams 8 through 3 receiving a total of $100, second place receiving $150 and first place receiving a grand total of $250.
Members from across the CSU and Fort Collins community ran the course, including Associated Students of Colorado State University’s president Daniela Pineda Soracá along with three other representatives.
“It was amazing because you got a perspective of not only teamwork, but every single obstacle had an intentional learning outcome,” Soracá said.
The event is a repeatable event and will happen again, Pierce said. Seen said he hopes to see the event grow, to put 200 teams through the course, but that this year’s event was an accomplishment.
“This project was worth the wait. All the hard work and all the hours spent was well worth (the validation),” Seen said.
Collegian reporter Austin Fleskes can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MrPacMan80.