Having struggled depression and anxiety for years, Julio Salazar was looking for a way to bring awareness of the battle against mental illness to a wider audience.
So this Monday, he will set off from Dawson, Minnesota, for a six-day journey across the width of the state, running a marathon-and-a-half every day in a challenge he's dubbed the "Break the Stigma Run."
The 45-year-old father-of-two, a judicial court clerk in Minneapolis, hopes to finish on Sunday, May 9, running around 40 miles a day to get to his final destination in Stillwater.
His route will take him through cities including Montevideo, Willmar, Darwin, Maple Plain, Wayzata, Minneapolis and St. Paul – stopping off at the state capitol along the way.
He is hoping to draw attention to the battle many Americans have against depression and anxiety, having fought it himself for years in secret, before finally summoning the courage to seek help, support and medication a few years ago, according to the Break the Stigma website.
"I still struggle with depression and anxiety," he added. "The difference between now and then is that I now have the ability to know how to deal with it. I understand what triggers it, what gets me out of it, and how to bounce back."
He now wants to bring his journey to communities across Minnesota, saying the idea for his a way to break the stigma of mental illness "popped into his head" while trail running in summer 2013.
He said: "Why not run across the State of Minnesota? What better way to reach people and be able to interact with many of them?"
'I won't quit'
As well as seeking to educate people about mental illness and the treatments available, Salazar will be raising money for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota, donations for which can be made here.
As for the run itself, Salazar realizes he has a huge challenge on his hands, but he told the MinnPost that he is determined to make it to the end.
"Weather doesn’t matter," he said. "I’m prepared to hurt, too. I won’t quit. I am going to do it. It’s just that important."
"I’m not focused on running across the whole state at once," he added. "I’m going to take my time. Along the way, I want to stop and reach out to people and bring awareness to communities."
"I understand why people are afraid to talk about mental illness," he said on the Break the Stigma Project website. "I’ve certainly been in that position. But unless we do something to break the stigma, we’ll continue to struggle. Sharing our experiences with mental illness is a place to start.