Julio Salazar hit rock bottom before he reached out for help. Plagued with depression for much of his life, an important thought came to him in one of his lowest moments when suicide seemed like his best option.

“It clicked for me suddenly: I decided I didn’t want to leave this world without doing something productive, something to teach others,” the Minneapolis judicial court clerk said.

It was that notion that led Salazar, 46, to seek help for his depression. With medication, therapy and running, he rebuilt a foundation to combat what he said were crushing feelings of despair. He said he also found healing by sharing his journey with others struggling with their own mental health problems.

That’s where Salazar got the idea for a project called Break the Stigma. Launched in 2014, the nonprofit seeks to educate and inspire those who have struggled with mental health issues. The vehicle for this message has been running. More specifically, Salazar completed a 240-mile run across Minnesota from Dawson, Minn., to Stillwater in early May, logging just more than 34 miles per day over seven days. Along the way, he shared his story at clinics, schools and family homes.

In a recent interview, Salazar spoke about his lifelong battle with depression, his cross-state run, and the important role that running plays in helping him find peace.

On Break the Stigma run

My goal was always about fostering hope for people with mental health issues. Having been to a lot of races, I understood how powerful running could be for people with addiction and mental health issues. So I thought what better way to bring attention to these issues than through running.

On his depression

I still struggle sometimes. You’re never cured from depression, but it gets better. If I hadn’t had the courage to ask my doctor for help with my depression, I think I would be dead by now. That first time my doctor told me it was treatable with medication and therapy was an amazing moment for me.

On running across the state

The second I put my running shoes on the first day, I hadn’t been that excited for a long time. If I had to do that for a race, I would have probably given up, but knowing it was for such an important cause that was so personal to me, it was fun. I woke up every day not thinking of running as a job, but instead, something I loved to do.

On his love for trail running

It’s about the trail and getting back to the dirt, getting your feet wet and getting dirty and not worrying about other everyday things. Growing up in Costa Rica I used to go hiking in the country, and the first time I went trail running it brought those memories of happiness back. I absolutely loved it. For me, it’s about the peacefulness, hearing the little birds, seeing the deer crossing the trail, even the skunk — being so in touch with nature. It’s cool because you know where you’re going, but you absolutely lose yourself in the run.

On his favorite place to run

I like the Superior Hiking Trail because it’s challenging and you can go miles and miles without seeing the same thing. When I go home to Costa Rica, I love going to the places that have meant a lot to me, namely the rain forest. Here in Minnesota, it’s about being near water. It calms you and, for a moment, makes you forget about other things.

 

Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance writer. She lives in Minneapolis.