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Carnduff firefighter completes Big Horn 100-mile race, helps raise $15,000 for mental health

Marcel Macfarlane, a dedicated Carnduff firefighter, just completed the grueling Big Horn 100-mile race. But his journey was about more than just crossing the finish line; it was a powerful statement about mental health, resilience and community support.

DAYTON, Wyoming — Marcel Macfarlane, a 10-year-plus veteran of the Carnduff Fire Department (CFD), crossed the finish line of the Big Horn 100-mile ultra-marathon on June 15, after two gruelling days of running through the rugged terrain of Wyoming.

His achievement was not just a personal milestone but a significant step in raising awareness about mental health and fighting the stigma associated with it.

Macfarlane, 52, who has been dealing with clinical depression, embarked on this challenge to spotlight mental health issues and raise funds for the Carnduff Fire Department's mental health initiatives.

His journey to the Big Horn 100, which became his fifth 100-miler, was marked by perseverance and a deep commitment to breaking down the barriers around mental health. Macfarlane, who has been a runner all his life and has participated in ultra-marathons since 2007, decided to turn his passion for running into a platform for advocacy after his own experiences with depression and the support he received from the fire department's mental health services.

In 2019, Macfarlane attempted the Big Horn 100 but had to drop out due to severe weather conditions. Following the race, the physical injuries he suffered prevented him from running for a long time and put the entire possibility of returning to his passion at risk. That, along with work-related stress, pushed his pre-existing condition even further.

"I enjoy the challenge of distance running and shortly after the 2019 attempt, I began to get a variety of different running injuries that impaired my ability to run in much of a significant way," Macfarlane recalled. "I probably would have been a marginally clinically depressed person before that, but then, with the inability to run, my depression got quite a bit worse."

Thankfully, the CFD offers a variety of mental health support and counselling services for the members, so Macfarlane was able to receive the help he needed at the time.

"I was utilizing some of those just to try to combat the difficulties that I was having. And so, I began to think in 2021-22, as I began to physically recover, that if I had another opportunity to do another long-distance 100-miler, I would try to give back to the fire department, and give back in a way that would allow them to put together more resources for other individuals that might need something," he shared.

"I had thought a lot about my clinical depression as a sign of weakness. But then I started to think a lot more in terms of the context of the runs that I do. And I decided that no, I'm not a weak person. I can endure a lot and am good at enduring a lot of adversity," he added.

"So, I thought that maybe I could give that example to other people. You're not a weak person just because you have this condition. And then maybe they'd have some positive feelings about it too and won't be so ashamed of it."

After a lot of thinking and with four months of successful training under his belt, Macfarlane told the CFD about the idea, which they were supportive and appreciative of.

"They got behind me and we made it a departmental and a community-wide initiative. We started to talk about mental health and some of the negative stigma that sometimes goes along with it. And I was willing to talk openly about it," Macfarlane recalled.

His run was part of a larger campaign that included a community awareness effort to promote mental health awareness. The CFD organized a community run to engage local residents and spread the message about the importance of mental health support.

"I've had individuals come and speak to me and thank me and say, 'Hey, I have this too, and I didn't know that you did. And now because of you, I'm willing to talk [about it]," Macfarlane shared.

Macfarlane's efforts also focused on fundraising to enhance the mental health services provided by the fire department. Thanks to the community support, as of June, the campaign has attracted over $15,000, tripling the goal of $5,000, all of which will directly help their members.

With better weather and a dedicated support team, Macfarlane completed the race in 30 hours, 33 minutes and seconds.

"I had a team to help me," he said. "My wife ran with me, as well as friends and colleagues from the fire department and local RCMP. Their support was crucial."

Macfarlane's team members were Brad and Eliza Belke, Neil and Jamie Sorrestad, Cory Meredith and Tammy Ignatiuk. His pacers for the race were his wife Dawn Pauwelyn (23 miles, miles 30-48 and 95-100), Warner Ignatiuk (18 miles from 48-66), daughter Leah Macfarlane (17 miles from 66-83) and Jenn Meredith (12 miles from 83-95). Macfarlane noted that Brad Belke, Neil and Jamie Sorrestad, and Jenn Meredith are his colleagues with the CFD, while Warner Ignatiuk is a friend and member of the Carnduff RCMP.

And even more people, including his mother, were following his progress online at home, thanks to the addition of GPS trackers that allow people to see the runners move through the route.

Out of the 343 100-mile runners starting the first day, about 190 crossed the finish line the second day, and Macfarlane was 81st, a result he was happy with.

"I was in a really good position at 82 miles to go. But I had some problems for about five or six miles, so I lost a lot of places. But I also wasn't racing for a place. When you get to be my age, that's not the number one priority. And my number one priority was to keep myself in a position to finish, because we had a lot of people who had made donations, and we wanted to make sure that I didn't fail," he shared.

The town expressed its gratitude to Macfarlane and his impact on the community.

"On behalf of our mayor, council, staff and community, we would like to congratulate Marcel Macfarlane on completing the Big Horn 100 this weekend," the town wrote on social media. "Marcel has been training hard for this event and seized the opportunity to help raise awareness, lift stigma for those that live with mental health conditions, and act as a fundraiser for our local fire department. Great job Marcel, your community is so proud of you."

While the fundraising campaign is gradually wrapping up, donations are still accepted. People can either e-transfer the Town of Carnduff at [email protected] and a tax-deductible receipt will be issued, or check out the "Burning away mental health stigma, one step at a time" GoFundMe page.

For more pictures and videos from the event, check out RM #2 and Carnduff Fire and Rescue's Facebook page.