When Doug Flis comes running into Ellicottville on Sept. 14, he’ll be carrying with him all the necessary equipment for running long distances and the commitment to bringing awareness of mental health to everyone who will listen.
Derric McElheney, director for Camp New Horizons, an organization operated by the Mental Health Association in Cattaraugus County, will be there at the finish line.
As one of Flis’s biggest supporters, McElheney is hoping that supporters of all ages show up in Ellicottville on Sept. 14.
“There really needs to be more education on this issue,” McElheney said.
Flis, who lives in Grimsby, Ontario, agrees.
“Everyone knows someone who has been affected by this issue,” Flis said by phone.
Flis has been running since the mid ‘70s as a way to improve his own health. When he got into charity running, Flis discovered that he could benefit not only himself but others.
In the past 30 years, Flis has completed several long-distance runs benefiting charitable causes like the Heart and Stroke Foundation, children’s hospitals and Run for the Bus, which raised money for children in the Caribbean who cannot afford transportation needed to get to school.
But it’s mental health issues, specifically those that affect young adults, that may be the cause that most concerns Flis.
“I’ve never spoken to anyone who hasn’t been touched by it,” he said, adding that bullying and teasing are huge concerns because they can often lead to solitary lives and, most troubling, suicide. “And programs for these types of problems aren’t funded as much as others are.”
McElheney, whose Camp New Horizons helps as many as 30 troubled and at-risk youths each summer, said suicide has become a significant concern in Western New York.
“The numbers are very troubling,” he said, adding that one area has seen six teen suicides in a short period of time.
Flis’s run from Grimsby to Ellicottville will help raise money for the Mental Health Association in Cattaraugus County and the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Leaving Grimsby on Sept. 13, Flis will run the approximate 30-hour course and sleep for only an hour.
At 63, Flis needs a little rest, after all.
“It’s very exhausting,” he said, adding that he finished his last run into Ellicottville two years ago, to benefit the Ronald McDonald House, in about 30 hours.
To train, Flis completes three 50-mile runs and long sessions on his elliptical machine. His wife, Jennifer Johnston, co-owns Grimsby Runners, a seller of running supplies and training facility for professional and amateur runners. Together, with business demands and weekly running sessions, Flis keeps in shape.
Flis plans to arrive in the Main Street area of Ellicottville on Sept. 14. He hopes the youth of the area join him about three miles outside of town for the final push into town. Once in town, Flis and his entourage will travel to the Ilex Inn for a barbecue event.
“We’re hoping to raise a ton of money,” he said.
In addition to his charity work, Flis has completed 75 marathons, including the Kona Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. He’s completed the Boston Marathon six times, helping over 20 people qualify for the marathon. Flis once ran a 115-mile race in 24 hours, one of his most significant accomplishments.
But his most significant accomplishment may be the education he has raised about issues he’s run for.
Mental health among the youth towers above all. Flis believes promoting the event as much as possible will get people talking.
“The whole mental health issue is a stigma,” he said. “People don’t want to talk about it, but the more it is discussed the more solutions can be found.”
McElheney said it’s his hope also that more people talk about the issue and educate themselves about it. He sees a lot of ignorance about the issue, especially at summer camps.
“You get organizers at these camps who come into contact with kids who have problems, who are at-risk, and they do nothing for them,” he said. “That’s where the trouble starts for them.”
For more information, visit www.grimsbyrunners.com or call the Mental Health Association in Cattaraugus County at (716) 372-0208.