Tony Smith is planning to run across America.
He hopes to run a year-long loop from coast to coast to coast. Along the way, Smith will humbly tell his testimony.
Smith story is a strong one, and one that many can connect with though few talk about it openly.
“Running saved my life,” Smith said. “Now, I’m using running to try to bring other people hope, and let them know that though you may have a hard time, you may come across financial struggles, problems with children or with a spouse, or whatever your case may be; but to hold on, that you can get through to the other side.”
At thirteen, Smith contemplated suicide.
“I was going through a tough time, like a lot of teenagers do,” Smith said. “There were a lot of factors, both my parents were sick. They were in and out of the hospital, and for a thirteen-year-old, it felt like I was going to lose them both.”
Smith’s grades dropped, he become a little withdrawn, but his parents didn’t notice. His mother and father were fighting their own battles.
“Everything seemed like the end of the world for me,” Smith said.
Smith lived in a farm town in Ohio, and because his parents were sick, his main source of transportation was his own two legs. One day he headed to his friend’s house a couple miles away in a bit of a rush, so he ran.
“I ran to my friends house, and his family was in awe,” Smith said. “For some reason it was the greatest thing to ever happen. That was the first time in a few months, at that age, that I had felt a sense of ease from the troubles.”
That was the day Smith fell in love with running.
“God gave me the way out,” Smith said. God gave me a way of handling my stress during the most critical time of my life and that was his way of protecting me, because he knew I had something to offer and He wasn’t about to let me go yet.”
Smith, who is now a Pulaski resident and currently works for the United States Post Office and the Virginia National Guard, still runs, but not just for himself.
Smith set up a Facebook page called Run Hope Live, so people can keep up with his daily runs, dedications, and training for the 2015 run.
Smith also decided to start dedicating his daily runs to people who may be struggling with or have committed suicide.
He started with a simple Facebook message honoring a friend from Ohio, that night Smith had 17 people requesting him run for their family or friends.
Now he does one dedication run a day, usually a 5.21 mile loop through town from his house, sometimes more when he’s off of work. He also offers to tell his testimony for any organization within 25 miles of Pulaski. Smith runs there from his home, dedicates the run and shares his story.
“When you lose someone to suicide, there is a sigma that comes with society,” Smith said. “People don’t want to talk about it, and so what ends up happening is that after you lose that loved one, you don’t really get to have joyous moments of remembrance of them. And so you are kind of stuck. What I am giving them is an opportunity to remember their loved one in a positive way.”
His daily dedication runs are part of a larger scale training for his cross country run for suicide awareness. Smith said it takes at least at least six months in training before running cross country, because of how rough the run will be on his body.
“The support, I don’t even have words to describe,” Smith said. “I’ve had people say ‘you have kept me from taking my own life,’ I’ve had phone calls, I’ve had people call me because they are in distress, I’ve had people tell me ‘thank you for running for my loved one and helping remember him’.”
Along with his daily runs and his ultimate goal, Smith is planning to participate in four runs in the fall this year, including the 2013 Virginia Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics.
Smith hopes to make Run Hope Live a non-profit by September, so donations can be tax deductible. For now those who want to help Smith can mail checks to Run Hope Live at PO Box 2014 Pulaski, VA 24301.
Smith hopes to raise awareness for suicide, while helping those who are struggling.
“It is important to hold on,” Smith said. “Things can get better if you give yourself a chance to see things through.”
Pulaski area offers the community resources for support when dealing with suicide or depression.
The NRV Community Support Group is available for those who have thought about suicide, are recovering from, or are grieving the loss of a lost one to suicide. Call Denise Hancock at (540) 200-5782 for more information.
The New River Valley Community Services offers services, information and programs regarding all aspects of mental health. Call (540) 961-8300 for more information.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will help at 1-800-273-TALK, and the connect callers to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.