Runners participate in the inaugural 2019 Step Up for Mental Health.

Step Up to double as Sask. Championships

It hasn’t taken long for Cameco’s Step Up for Mental Health Run/Walk to become one of Saskatchewan’s most popular road running events.

The event — which held its inaugural run in 2019 — welcomed roughly 4,500 participants last year and is looking to significantly increase that this year.

The Sept. 24 event in Saskatoon will feature 5-kilometre, 10-kilometre and half marathon distances on Saskatchewan-Athletics-sanctioned courses with the great swag and atmosphere that runners and walkers have come to associate with Step Up. As in previous years, all money from entry fees and donations will be matched by Cameco and distributed to mental health projects and programs in Saskatchewan through the Cameco Fund for Mental Health.

This week, race director Jonathan Huntington talks to the Brainsport Times about the race and why people should sign up soon.

Participants in the inaugural 2019 Step Up for Mental Health.
Participants in the inaugural 2019 Step Up for Mental Health.

Brainsport Times: This year’s race is being billed as “bigger and better than ever;” what do you mean by that?

Jonathan Huntington: There’s a lot new coming in 2023 that we are really excited about.

The biggest thing is the event is growing in size. The City of Saskatoon has given us the green light to have upwards of 7,000 to 8,000 people registered. So that wonderful, inclusive atmosphere is just going to be even bigger. That’s one thing we’ve always noticed about Step Up for Mental Health: it’s a race unlike anything else in the country because it’s an inclusive race where you can feel safe coming to it if you are impacted by mental health. It’s a no-judgement zone and it’s such a wonderful feeling that day. It doesn’t matter for 90 per cent of the people what time they run or walk; it’s just about supporting each other around mental health.

We have new courses that are starting at Prairieland Park. And the finish line for everything is downtown on Spadina Crescent. So it’s a point-to-point course with some nice downhills, which will be a lot of fun for people.

The other big thing we’re adding is the half marathon (in addition to the 5km and 10km distances). We wanted to provide something to people who’ve been with us for the first four years of Step Up for Mental Health and give them a challenge, something new they can shoot for.

BT: Also new this year, courses will be certified by Saskatchewan Athletics and all three distances will double as the Saskatchewan Championships. What does that mean for participants?

JH: By getting Saskatchewan Athletics on board and declaring it the provincial championships for all three distances, it just spreads the word of mental health even more. Those elite runners that are going to come to the event to try and get the best placing possible in the province for 2023, they’ll come and hopefully have a wonderful experience where they see — if they don’t know already — just how important mental health is in our province. It’ll open the door to many more conversations about mental health and that’s what this is all about.

We’ll have it arranged on that Sunday morning to have the fast runners, the elites, at the front of the pack. We’re leaving lots of time in between the races; we’re absolutely ensuring that if you are an elite runner, you’re going to have a clean shot from the start to the finish at a point-to-point course. We absolutely want this to be just a first-class event. So we’re going to stagger the start times by quite some time for the different distances.

It’s wonderful that Saskatchewan Athletics trusts us to put on an event like this. We feel we put on the best event in the province in terms of atmosphere, in terms of organization and amenities. We think no other course has the type of atmosphere and live entertainment on it. We’ll have so many DJs on the course, we’ll have live entertainment on the course. And we feel that the buzz of the finish line is just tremendous.

The sold-out field in the 2019 Step Up for Mental Health Run.
The sold-out field in the 2019 Step Up for Mental Health Run.

BT: What is it about Step Up that’s made it so popular?

JH: I think the tie to mental health just gets people so excited to be involved. And with Step Up for Mental Health you get four pieces of swag: you get a bunny hug, a tech shirt, a drawstring backpack and a fantastic medal at the finish line. There isn’t another race that can offer that in terms of a swag component. But, even better, your entire registration fee is going right to mental health programs. Cameco doesn’t keep one cent of the registration fee and we go one better: We match your registration fee. So there’s nothing that compares to that feeling of going to get physical exercise for yourself, but also helping the most vulnerable in our community with mental health. So I think that’s what resonates with people. It’s just helping out and giving back. And that’s why the event grows every year.

BT: What have you heard from the community about the impact of the grants distributed through the Cameco Fund for Mental Health?

JH: We know the impact of the grant has been tremendous. Through the first four years of this event we’ve been able to give back almost $1.5 million. And we know just anecdotally how much it has helped. The runners and walkers that come to this event know that they’re making an incredible impact on the lives of men, women and children that are all going through a mental health struggle and, sometimes, many are going through it in silence until they reach out to ask for help. And when they do, there’s money there from charities and not-for-profits because of the Cameco Fund for Mental Health.

The best way I can put it is that last year, when we opened up the application process for charities to come to us and ask for financial help, we were overwhelmed by the number of requests. It was double, triple the amount of financial requests that we could handle. That’s how much the need is there. So it’s so wonderful this year we can make it bigger because we can then give more money to the community.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more information and to register, visit the Step Up For Mental Health website. The next price increase is June 23 at 11:59 p.m. Central Time.