A man wearing a firefighter's duty shirt, posing for a photo from a barberchair
Mo Bro Michael JayImage by: JJ Sulin
A man wearing a firefighter's duty shirt, posing for a photo from a barberchair
31 October 2022

Mike’s Story: Who I Run For and What I’ve Learned Along the Way

Michael Jay
4 minutes read time

As a firefighter and a first responder, mental health and suicide prevention is crucial. From military, police, firefighters, paramedics – it’s something that we all deal with. From struggling to handle a touch call, to suffering PTSD, it’s just something that will affect us all at some point in our careers. And often time, those who are being affected are struggling in silence.

" For the past three years at least, deaths by suicide are outnumbering line of duty deaths. If this is something we can put an end to, then I’m definitely going to talk about it and share my story. "

2009 was the first time I really struggled mentally. I was playing college baseball and preparing for the MLB Draft, and the expectations and stress were very high. But in 2009, I just didn’t see the research, or the resources, or hear the conversations. The stigma was definitely still there though. People expecting me to be a “tough guy”. The fear of speaking up, admitting that I was struggling, and that people were going to judge me. I was lucky enough to have a coach who recognized the changes in my behaviour and helped me to better understand what I was going through and get me the support I needed at that time. Thank you, OD.

I’m the type of person who wants to overcome any obstacles, but my mental health is something that I’m challenged with every day. I have to be self-aware and recognize the signs. When I notice them showing up, I seek opportunities to step back, reflect on those thoughts and emotions, what triggered them, and how can I handle my reactions better the next time I’m faced with similar challenges. I also seek activities that keep me balanced. Lately, one of those activities has been running. Something I never would have expected.

I have always been someone who prioritizes my health and fitness. Working out and lifting weights are things that bring me peace. But running is something I never really cared for. Then that changed- because of Zac.”

In 2020, he was participating in Movember, running 60 miles over the month to raise funds and awareness. Unfortunately, part way through the month he unexpectedly passed away. Because of the challenge he had set for himself, there was still a certain number of miles left to run. His friends and family – the whole community – they stepped up and they finished out his miles and they raised a ton of funds and awareness for the cause. It was super inspiring.

So, the next year – 2021 – when Movember came around, I knew I wanted to run, to carry on his legacy. I committed to learning to love running and getting better at it. I had a mental switch that turned on. I told myself, “I can put my mind to this. I can do it.” And from it, I learned the mental toughness side of running. At first, one mile was probably the longest distance I had ever run. I knew I wanted to do the 60 miles over the month, so that meant at least two miles a day. “That’s going to be terrible,” I thought. But the next day I’d run a little more. And the next day a little longer. And I started to get excited by it. To test my limit. I was teaching myself, training myself to go beyond what I thought I could do – one day at a time.

I’ve taken the attitude and approach beyond running into my work life, my home life. Instead of telling myself, “You’re not going to be able to do it. You can’t do it.”, I say, “Let’s give it a shot!” It gives me energy and it gives me a mind frame that I can do it. It opens up the possibility of overcoming a challenge, which completely plays into my mental health, one hundred percent. It's taught me that I can get myself to something, that I can work through something. My mind is going to take me where I want it to go. And now it’s taking me to the New York City Marathon.

Running the New York City Marathon for Movember is such an incredible opportunity. Running down those streets, in a city that has arguably one of the most storied fire departments in the world means so much to me as a firefighter. To run for first responders. To run for men’s health. To run for Zac – and to continue his legacy that motivated me in the first place. While I’m not one who’s great at growing a Mo, I’m honored to help change the face of men’s health, one step at a time.

Support Mike’s efforts to raise funds and awareness for men’s health and learn more about running with Movember here.