Nuu-chah-nulth couple joins relay for suicide prevention

Denise Titian, September 6, 2017

Janice and Ed Johnson are taking part in a cross-island relay run this month to promote discussion on suicide prevention. (Denise Titian photo)

Vancouver Island — 

Edward and Janice Johnson are passionate about promoting mental wellness as part of a suicide prevention strategy. In keeping with their beliefs they have joined Kelly Paul, Tsartlip, and will take part in the 2017 Heliset Hale Relay (Awaken the life within you) to run for suicide prevention, mental health and wellness. Why? Because the impact of suicide and mental health issues in our communities is devastating.

The Heliset Hale Relay began in 2013 after Kelly Paul lost her 17 year-old brother to suicide. “After the loss of my brother I wanted to find a way to make a difference,” said Paul. She ran the first year the entire distance along with two others and admits there was a learning curve. Even though Paul is athletic and physically fit, the first year took a toll on their bodies in the form of painful shin splints and muscle tears.

In subsequent years more runners joined and now run relay-style, which is more important than ever now that they’ve increased the distance with visits to more communities along the two-week running route.

The run will begin Sept. 11 at Port Hardy, heading south to Alert Bay. It is being run relay-style with team members taking turns doing the running. The runners will cover Vancouver Island from Port Hardy back to Victoria, with stops along the west coast.

The nine-member relay team will stop in 18 Vancouver Island communities where they will engage with the people. The communities usually host some sort of reception where the runners may have a meal then speak with the crowd about suicide prevention. This year mental wellness is the focus.

Kelly Paul’s mother Sharon was at the welcoming ceremony held Sept. 1 in Nanaimo. She said that she hopes this relay will get the dialogue going so people can talk about promoting wellness. “It’s taken awhile for me to feel okay about life again [after the loss of her son]; and I am happy that Kelly has taken this on and to have you all join this cause,” said Sharon.

The 2017 Heliset Hale Relay is sponsored by First Nations Health Authority and Sharon thanked FNHA Regional Manager Eunice Joe for their support. Joe said that her organization recognizes that suicide prevention is an area of concern for First Nations people and FNHA works with communities to promote wellness.

Stops include various schools and First Nation communities. New stops this year include Port Alberni then off to the western communities of Ucluelet, Tofino, and Ahousaht.

Also newly included in the relay route are Pacheedaht and T'sou ke, bringing the total run to nearly 900 kilometres.

They are also fundraising to cover the cost of food, fuel and accommodations needed during the run. There is a website set up to take donations.

There will be two Nuu-chah-nulth runners joining Heliset Hale Relay. While Kelly Paul steps away from running in order to coordinate the event, married couple Edward and Janice Johnson have stepped up to run the relay.

The couple is proud parents of four children: Jeffery Charleson, 21, Kaelynn Gus, 21, Edward Johnson Jr., 17 and Isaak Johnson, 12. It is for their futures that the couple strive to promote wellness through physical activity.

Janice, from Tseshaht First Nation, works for First Nations Health Authority as a community engagement coordinator. She shared that she lost her younger brother suddenly over the Christmas holidays. “That threw me off of my own mental health,” she said, adding that she needs to do this relay for her own mental wellness, “to prevent me from going in directions I don’t want to go.”

“Throughout my life I have witnessed the way mental health is the number one cause of poor outcomes for our people. I want to be part of change; to create awareness that there are healthy choices through running and through taking care of yourself,” said Janice. “This is an opportunity for me to heal and to help others by giving hope.”

Through her work with First Nations Health Authority, Janice says she recognizes that we, as First Nations people, have been in crisis for way too long. “This work is important to me; there are too many deaths caused by addictions and suicide and that all ties to the state of mental health of our people,” she noted.

Janice said she’s been a runner her entire life with breaks here and there. She recalled running a race in the third grade and how she was cheered on when she won the race. It brought her happiness and a feeling of success.

“Many people are depressed and don’t know it and I will keep fighting for future generations,” Janice vowed.

Edward Johnson is from Huu-ay-aht First Nation. Physical fitness and sports has always been an important part of his life. According to his Heliset Hale biography, Edward, has always wanted to stay fit because his grandpa Ralph was always so active. Ralph was a great role model who showed the importance of being physically fit and was always leading by example. He was always caring for his family and people and this is why Edward follows in his footsteps.

Edward is extremely grateful for the opportunity to run with his peers and looking forward visiting the communities on the island to create awareness. “We have all lost someone close to us and it’s a battle that we continue to face,” he said. He wants people to know that there is no better way to raise awareness than to talk, to share and let people know that they are not alone.

Edward says he is dedicating his run to the loved ones that have been lost. “We want to help create that discussion, to let people know that they are not alone and that it is okay to talk,” he told Ha-Shilth-Sa.

Janice is grateful and looking forward to this opportunity to raise awareness on Suicide Awareness and Mental Health & Wellness. She dedicates this run to all the loved ones that we have lost to suicide, drug addiction or alcohol addiction. It is important to Janice that we recognize that mental health & wellness is essential to the health outcomes of our loved ones. 

“I will not give up the fight, I will keep fighting for our future generations,” said Janice Johnson.

The run begins Sept. 11 at Port Hardy to Port Hardy.

Sept. 12 Port Hardy to Alert Bay

Sept. 13 Woss to Sayward

Sept. 14 Sayward to Campbell River

Sept 15 Campbell River to Komoks to Qualicum

Sept. 16 Qualicum to Port Alberni

Sept. 17 Port Alberni to Ucluelet

Sept. 18 Ucluelet to Tofino/Ahousaht

Sept. 19 after driving back to Qualicum, runners will head to Nanoose and then on to Nanaimo

Sept. 20 Nanaimo to Stzuminus Community School, drive to Halalt then run to Malahat and Cowichan

Sept. 21 Cowichan to Port Renfrew/Pacheedaht

Sept. 22 Port Renfrew/Pacheedaht to Sooke/T'sou ke

Sept. 23 Sooke/T'sou ke to Songhees, to Mile 0

Sept. 24 Mile 0 to Tsawout

For more information visit the website