Miami U. student, grad paddling 981 miles for suicide prevention

It’s not the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” kind of break for three college students.

It’s more of a nearly 1,000-mile adventure for a trio paddling the entire length of the Ohio River in the name of suicide prevention.

“At the end of the day, the purpose may not be interest in the canoe part of it, but they will be aware of mental health aspects of it,” said Jackson Gray, who will be a senior at Miami University in the fall.

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Gray wanted to call attention to the issues of mental illness and suicide through Race the River 2017. He is joined by Quinton Couch, who graduated from Miami last month, and also Tyler Brezina, who will be a sophomore at Bowling Green State University this fall.

The impetus for the trip is to raise awareness — and money — for suicide prevention in the wake of a friend’s death.

Gray and Brezina are graduates of Canton McKinley High School, where they both knew James Halley, who committed suicide in 2014 at age 18.

The trip started May 20 and is expected to take until late this month to travel the 981 miles in a kayak and canoe, camping along the way or staying in an assortment of basements, cabins or other stopover points each night.

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Gray spent much of this past academic year planning for the trip and speaking to groups about suicide prevention, including a mental health forum and Greek and other organizations at Miami.

Couch, who is a graduate of Ross High School, got involved with the project while working at the Bagel & Deli Shop in Oxford and overhearing Gray talk to friends about the plan.

Their goal was to raise $10,000, with $7,000 going to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the rest to cover their costs for the trip.

Gray credits Brett Smith, of Miami’s Farmer School of Business, and interns from an entrepreneurship class with creating a fundraising plan and a business plan for Race the River 2017 and setting up their social media presence.

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The trio has a Facebook page — "Race the River 2017" — where updates are being posted of their journey.

That Facebook page also includes articles about mental health, suicide and bipolar disorder.

A Facebook entry on May 17 noted: “ This is all about starting the conversation regarding mental health so we can reach out to people in crisis. If you see someone in distress, gently ask if they would like help or just to talk. It’s all about making connections and creating new relationships!”

A May 22 post from the group highlighted the fun they are having, but also the possible fatal dangers of their journey: “Hey everyone, we are safe in our sleeping bags tucked away for the night. We were blessed to stay in a Trailer provided by Ape trucking! Big thanks to them for the support. Tomorrow is a long day so we are headed to bed early. We are 75 miles in feeling strong and ready to hit the water tomorrow. We had to do some exploring today and had to break out the machete in some over grown river banks, but it was all in the adventure. …Have a great night, and please send prayers to the 2 kayakers that died Saturday on the Ohio. Please please keep them in your prayers.”

Gray, a major in civic and regional development, has been an intern for the City of Oxford this past semester and plans to intern at Fort Hamilton Hospital next fall. Couch graduated May 13 in diplomacy and global politics with a minor in Arabic.

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