A Run for Chris
Waterdown Run Honours Chris Owens’ Memory & Supports St. Joe’s Program for Young Adults Living with Mental Illness and Substance Use
Chris Owens was a runner from the time he knew how to walk. From the sunny beaches of Australia to the mountainous terrain of Canada’s West Coast, to his hometown in Waterdown, Ont., Chris always found time and space for a run.
“Chris was always running. He never stopped,” says Megan Roti, Chris’ best friend since elementary school and closest confidant for 17 years. “That was his consistent form of therapy.”
But no matter how far and wide Chris ran, he wasn’t able to escape the grip that substance use had on his life. Sadly, on August 20, 2021, at just 26 years old, Chris lost his battle with mental illness and addiction.
“Growing up, Chris was so full of life and energy. He would light up every room he walked into and touched the lives of everyone he met. He was an entertainer, and his sense of humour was unmatched,” Megan says.
“In high school, when alcohol came into the picture, it grabbed hold of Chris. I think he lost his sense of self and didn’t have an understanding of what was happening for him to get the help he needed early on. As we got older, Chris’ symptoms became more severe which included seizures and his body just couldn’t take it anymore.”
Going the Distance for Chris
To honour Chris’ memory, on Sunday, August 21, Megan, along with Chris’ close friends Hailey Chappell and Jayme Bridge, and his sister, Michelle Owens, have organized a 5-km run and walk at Joe Sams Park in Waterdown. The goal is to raise $25,000. All proceeds from A Run for Chris will support St. Joe’s Young Adult Substance Use Program (YA-SUP).
So far, Megan says the community’s response to A Run for Chris has been incredible. Hundreds of people have signed up to participate, and local businesses have showed an overwhelming amount of support for the cause.
“Almost 300 people attended Chris’ funeral. He was very loved and well-known in Waterdown, and beyond,” Megan adds. “But you don’t have to have known Chris to take part in the run. Everyone is welcome to register or make a donation. Your support will help destigmatize mental illness and addiction and break down barriers to care.”
How Your Support will Help
From social workers to addiction specialists, St. Joe’s YA-SUP program is made up of a multi-disciplinary team of clinicians who treat young adults ages 17 to 25 who are struggling with substance use early on, so they have the best possible chance of avoiding a lifetime of addiction. Since launching in February 2021, the program has made measurable strides in improving the lives of the young adults it serves.
A “better understanding of myself and my mind.” “New coping skills” and realizing “I don’t need substances to have a good life” are just some of the positive words of feedback from young adults who participated in the program. In fact, 75 per cent of participants surveyed said they would attend the program even if they had other choices – a key outcome as young adults with substance use concerns often abandon treatment because they don’t view their substance use as an issue or don’t feel they are “sick” and need help.
This is something Megan knows all too well. Not only did she watch Chris go in and out of different recovery programs, Megan, too, struggled to find consistent care for her own mental health and addictions challenges as she navigated her way to becoming a young adult. A few years ago, Megan found services through St. Joe’s that played a key role in helping her on her journey to getting better.
“Struggling with mental health and addiction can be extremely debilitating. You feel like you can’t accomplish anything and you’re going 10 steps backwards every day trying to dig yourself out of a hole,” she says.
“I tried to get sober for a long time. After several years of developing the tools and strategies needed with the help of St. Joe’s along the way, I almost have two years of sobriety under my belt, which has now allowed me to work on my mental health with better clarity. My hope is, through A Run for Chris, we can raise more awareness, and funds, so that young people in our community can get the help they need, sooner.”
“Chris’ legacy lives on in every individual who he came across. He has taught us all to be bold, take up space, get outside, to love deeply and to see the beauty in every moment life has to offer. All Chris ever wanted was to spread his incredible energy across the globe, to connect one another, to laugh together and to see beyond the suffering that can occur in life,” Megan adds. “Through A Run For Chris, we will continue to spread Chris’ message, and we will never stop running for Chris.”
To register for A Run for Chris, or make a donation, visit the event site.