Step by step, aunt of Alissa Haines raises awareness for Saturday’s memorial event
When a Wyoming family lost its loved one to suicide in December 2011, it chose to fight back. Family, friends and total strangers joined to raise $40,000 for suicide prevention and education through last year’s inaugural Alissa M. Haines Stomp Out Suicide Race for Awareness.
The fight continues Saturday with the second annual memorial event in Goodview Park. This time, all proceeds will benefit Stomp Out Suicide, a nonprofit established by Alissa’s parents, Sean and Katie.
One Haines relative has already walked her share. Lisa Thielfoldt Iverson, Sean’s sister, has been on a special journey since June.
With Stomp Out Suicide taking the lead this year, Iverson agreed to lend logistical support to this weekend’s event. Serving as a coordinator, however, means she will not get to participate in the race.
So the Wyoming resident, who works in marketing and event planning for Stars & Strikes Entertainment Center, came up with a creative way to promote the race while still taking part in her own way.
Iverson, 47, has put more than 200 miles on her walking shoes since June 17. The former runner had hurt her knee last year and figured the walking challenge would be simple to weave into her daily routine.
“I kind of toyed with the idea, thinking what can I do to make people start talking about (this weekend’s event),” she said. “I’m like, ‘OK, you know what? I’ll try walking. It’s not very far to walk from here to work,’ not realizing exactly how far it was.”
That distance – 3.33 miles – served as the original daily total, but Iverson’s route lengthened along with her endurance. She now walks to and from work, and more, for a total of about 9 miles a day.
Heading into Friday, Iverson had walked 194.89 miles, equal to 401,599 steps over 51 hours. The mother of three planned to reach her goal of 200 miles Saturday morning with her husband, Dan, by her side.
The exercise serves as a stress reliever and may bring about other health benefits for the Type 2 diabetic.
“It’s been really good. I feel really healthy, which is great,” she said. “I’m interested to see what my numbers are when I’m done with it.”
But no physical benefits can outweigh the mental and spiritual gain, Iverson said. She has put every step to good use.
“I never walk without a purpose,” Iverson said.
In her first week on the road, one chance encounter gave Iverson all the inspiration she needed. At an appointment one morning, she told a stranger of her plan. It was the first time she talked about it outside of her family.
“She said, ‘You know what? I’m taking my daughter in today to get help for depression,’” Iverson recalled. “I said, ‘Can I walk for your daughter today and pray for her?’ and she said ‘I would love that.’ From there, I knew that this is what I was going to do.
“I just took the chance and blurted out what I was going to do and she told me her story, so I kind of felt it was fate that that was what I was supposed to do.”
Besides her mileage log, Iverson keeps a journal of who she walks and prays for every day. Always close to her heart is her niece, who was 15 when she died.
“Alissa was quiet but always smiling. She had just a great smile,” Iverson said. “She just was one of those kids that was always smiling and would give you the biggest hug. She loved her little brother. She loved him to no end.
“There’s a big hole in the family. … People that die by suicide, there is a mental sickness that they are going through, a depression, and they don’t realize the hole that it leaves. They don’t realize how forever it will affect their best friend, their aunt, their mom and dad. They don’t think that; they just want to get rid of the pain.”
Since Alissa’s death, three other youth from within the Forest Lake School District boundaries have died by suicide. They, along with a co-worker’s deceased brother, are among those for whom Iverson mourns and prays during her walks.
Such reflection has brought clarity. Iverson will never forget one particularly taxing walk. The weather was ideal, so she decided to walk to Stacy and back. The route was longer than she thought and she was tired upon reaching Wyoming’s northerly neighbor. Daunted by the 9-mile road home, and caught off guard by the darkness of the wooded path, Iverson’s mind played tricks on her on her return.
She pressed on until she was 1 mile from home. Worn out, she sat down and texted her youngest son for a ride, but he did not immediately get the message. Again, she pressed on.
“That walk was really slow,” Iverson recalled. “I come to the corner and my son comes running and he’s like, ‘You can do it, Mom! You can get all the way there!’ I’m crying by this point because I’m literally just exhausted.
“The next day I kind of thought about that walk and I thought, ‘You know what? This is maybe how somebody with depression feels.’ Your body is feeling fine, but your mind – when I was scared, in the woods – I’m thinking that’s probably how someone feels. When I called for help and I got here and no one was there yet, I’m thinking, ‘Wow.’ When my son met me at the end and he’s cheering me on – the people that committed suicide, they didn’t have that help. If they could’ve just reached out, if somebody would’ve known – these people don’t have that. So it really just opened my eyes to what these kids could be going through.”
Iverson plans to continue walking through the fall, not for her own gain but to raise awareness and prompt discussion. She sees the work Stomp Out Suicide is doing in the schools and feels progress is being made. Iverson feels that training teachers to see warning signs is an especially hopeful method.
“We’re going to start finding a way to prevent this,” she said.
The second annual 5K in memory of Alissa Haines begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at Wyoming’s Goodview Park. Registration and check-in opens at 9 a.m. The event will also feature live music, a disc jockey, games for children and a silent auction. Online registration is preferred and can be done at www.stompoutsuicide.com.