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Cross-country run for youth mental health awaremess ends in Ocean Shores
The Daily World - 7/22/2022
After 84 consecutive days of running, few people appreciate an Ocean Shores sunset more than Greg Nance.
Nance, who hails from Bainbridge Island, began his run across America on April 25. He completed his journey in Ocean Shores — 3,156 miles later — at approximately 8:25 p.m. on Sunday, July 17.
"It's indescribable. It's a dream I've had for 11 years, and a lot of those 11 years it's been somewhere in front of my mind that I want to do this. I would say, the last three (years), it's been a daily obsession, like 'I'm going to make this happen,'" said Nance in an interview with The Daily World on Monday, July 18.
"It's so sweet, it's so surreal, and it's just wonderful having the town of Ocean Shores coming out to be there — to support and cheer those final miles. Unforgettable. I will be, until my dying breaths, smiling on that: a beautiful moment in time."
A crowd gathered near the Ocean Shores entrance gates on Sunday night to watch Nance as he completed his run for youth mental health. After running down Point Brown Avenue, Nance then turned onto West Chance a La Mer to meet the Pacific Ocean.
"I wanted to start in New York, a kind of quintessential spot in the Atlantic, and then Ocean Shores — number one I love the name. It sounds amazing, and I pulled up Google and did a little view around, and it looked like a really beautiful place," said Nance.
"I don't think I've ever been here, and though I'm Washingtonian, I've spent very little time on the coast. I wanted to come explore it and dip my toe in the ocean. No one will dispute that if I finish in Ocean Shores."
As an ultramarathon runner who has set 35 "Fastest Known Time" records, Nance is no stranger to physical endurance, but his run across the country served another purpose.
In February, Nance launched the Run Far Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides microgrants to fund youth-led volunteer projects. Beyond the typical paradigm of volunteering, the goal of the foundation is to address youth mental health and potential subsequent substance abuse by providing youths with a positive outlet.
"The foundation is really sparked out of a lived experience where we want to provide a funding gateway to young people who have a ton of energy, have so many creative ideas, but they're lacking the financial resources in a lot of cases, and also the mentorship," said Nance.
The $100, $200, and $500 grants will be distributed this autumn, and the first awardee will be announced on Saturday at Nance's homecoming party on Bainbridge Island.
Volunteering has been an essential part of Nance's own mental health journey. Following the death of his grandfather, Nance struggled from age 16-23 with substance abuse. Running, as well as joining youth volunteer projects, helped Nance achieve and maintain sobriety.
"That was sort of a meaning and purpose beyond myself and beyond this pain I was feeling. The result of all of that was that I was able to kind of refind my path without treatment, without rehab, without going to jail or anything like that," he said.
But recovery is a journey, and even Nance — with his records and accomplishments — has faced moments of uncertainty.
"Coming out of the world marathon challenge — which is a seven days, seven marathons, seven continent deal — the last day of that challenge I was in so much physical pain, and actually kind of mental pain as well, that I almost relapsed for the first time in seven years," he said. "That was a really scary and jarring experience for me, and I ended up asking a lot of questions coming out of that, including 'How could this happen to me?'"
Nance then began working on a film project around addiction and addiction recovery, and found startling commonalities between those who struggle with addiction.
"I kept hearing the same elements over and over again, where people who come to struggle with addiction talk about really difficult childhood or youth/teen experiences … You fast forward the tape and that's a much harder life, and it's all because this person dealt with really hard stuff when they were young, and they didn't have the tools to deal with it because they're a young person and it's harder. I heard that story a hundred times," he said.
Nance hopes the projects funded by Run Far will proactively address youth mental health issues and build positive mental health habits that will last a lifetime.
As of Monday, Nance's run across America had raised more than $104,000 for the foundation — exceeding their goal of $100,000. The run also served to raise awareness, according to Nance, who was able to share his motivations as he covered approximately 38 miles a day.
"I wanted to do this run, and when you tell people you're running across the country the natural reaction is 'What? Why? Are you crazy?,' and it's really a great conversation starter. You have an opportunity to share what is driving you, what is fueling you, and that's a really powerful opportunity to cut through some noise and to reach someone who, in daily life may have been too busy to learn about youth mental health, but now they want to hear this," he said.
Nance believes the foundation can serve as part of a catalyst for a nationwide youth mental health movement. He intends to fund youth-led projects in all 50 states "sooner rather than later."
"One of the big lessons for me in all of this is that America's a very big country, and despite the geographic distance, and the various differences in status — socioeconomic, race, religion, education levels — so many of the issues our kids are facing are very, very similar," he said. "Every kid needs a good environment to learn and to grow. Every kid needs adults around who care and who are investing in them, and we're hoping to be a part of that solution."
Grays Harbor County seems sure to remain on Nance's radar, and he would "love" to fund youth-led projects in Ocean Shores and across the county. Applications can be found at www.runfarfoundation.com/apply.
"There's so much spirit to this place. I've met literally dozens, maybe a 100-plus people now who are just so incredibly encouraging and it's the perfect place to wrap up this journey and begin the reflective process and integrate this experience into my life," Nance said.
As he recovers from some ankle tendonitis that has been plaguing him since Montana, Nance looks toward his next personal outlet. Fly fishing is at the top of the list, and he hopes to come back to Grays Harbor to enjoy the rivers and the place that now holds a special significance for him.
"The entire Ocean Shores experience has been above and beyond. I dreamed of putting a toe in the Pacific for a lot of years. Never in my wildest dreams was it anything like this; this is so much bigger and better and very, very sweet to be able to share that moment with the wonderful folks here," he said.
Donations to the Run Far Foundation can be made at donorbox.org/run-far-foundation.