Skylar Roth-MacDonald grew up playing soccer, spending most of his days practicing and playing with his tight-knit group of friends and teammates. Sadly, in 2009 they lost one of their teammates, Josh, to suicide when he was just twelve years old. Three years later, they lost a second teammate, Eli, to suicide. By the time Roth-MacDonald graduated high school, he would know six more kids who would take their own lives. After experiencing so much loss, and having mental health struggles of his own, the now 24-year-old based in Calgary, AB, has set off on a coast-to-coast run across Canada called Miles for Smiles to raise awareness and funds for mental health.
Roth-MacDonald found trail running after he was forced to quit soccer from too receiving too many concussions. Living close to the mountains, he began hiking, which quickly turned into trail running. This eventually led to ultra running, which he says allows him to really challenge himself to see what his body can do. Although he’s never done an official race, he has completed several ultramarathon distances on his own, including one 140-kilometre run. This trek across Canada, not surprisingly, will be the longest distance he’s completed in his running career.
Roth-MacDonald began his run in Victoria, B.C. on June 1, and his goal is to reach St. John’s, N.L. in 150 days or less. He is currently running an average of 60-65 kilometres each day, and is feeling better than he thought he would, which has bolstered his confidence that he’ll reach Newfoundland by the end of October. His purpose behind the run, which is to raise awareness and money for mental health, is what inspires him to keep going.
“The run is called Miles for Smiles, and was created to raise more awareness for the pandemic that’s going on that’s not really spoken about — the mental health crisis going on in this country,” he explains. “It’s not just been going on over this past year, but it’s been going on for as long as people have existed.”
He adds that talking about mental health, being vulnerable and educating people and giving them the resources and information about where and how they can get help is important as well. “We can get a prosthetic leg or prosthetic arm, but we can only get one brain so we need to prioritize that,” he says. “I have too many friends who have taken their lives, and I feel like I owe this run to them.”
Roth-MacDonald says this run is not only for his friends, but for anyone who’s lost a loved one to suicide, or who is struggling mentally and emotionally. As someone who has personal experience with mental health issues, he understands how difficult it can be, but says running has helped him tremendously.
“I’ve come to the conclusion, and it’s been a long way to get to this point, that [mental health struggles] are not going to go anywhere, and you have to use tools to manage it,” he says.
Running has been one of those tools for Roth-MacDonald, which is why he’s decided to use running as his way of giving back and supporting others. Ultrarunning, he says, mirrors his own battle with depression because it’s often tempting to quit. Some runs you feel really good, and some runs you don’t, but as long as you keep moving forward you’ll get to the finish line.
His second (and main) goal for the run is to raise $50,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association while raising awareness about mental health with as many Canadians as possible. If you would like to support Roth-MacDonald on his journey, head to milesforsmiles.com for more information and to donate. You can also follow along as he makes his way across the country on his personal Instagram page, as well as the Miles4Smiles Instagram page.