This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
Bear-crawls are one of those exercises that make people groan in anticipation. Arguably worse than a burpee, you place your hands and feet on the ground and move forward by stepping your right foot and right hand in front of you, followed by your left foot and left hand. Now, can you imagine doing that for 26.2 miles? Devon Lévesque can — he did it last Saturday in New York City.
It wasn't easy. Around mile 21, Lévesque was exhausted. He had been bear-crawling for the past 17 hours with breaks every 3 miles to wrap his hands to protect them from deep blistering. As he entered Central Park for the last leg of the race, he learned couldn’t get his hands rewrapped. Suddenly, all the hills in the park felt daunting.
“I was like, ‘Oh God, I don’t know if I can do this. This is going to be brutal.’ But something clicked and I just went super deep and (realized) failure was just not an option,” Lévesque, 28 of Jersey City, New Jersey, told TODAY. “I just told myself that this is very temporary — that it’s going to be done in a couple hours.”
Lévesque’s drive to finish came from the reason why he was bear-crawling 26.2 miles. Not only was he raising money for FitOps, an organization that prepares veterans to become fitness trainers, but he also wanted to raise awareness about veteran mental health. His father died by suicide when Lévesque was 16. He wanted to make sure that people understand the risk veterans face when it comes to mental health and death by suicide.
“I never talked about my dad’s suicide until 12 months ago, and I started to talk about it more and more and it’s like a 100-pound weight just came off me,” he said. “I think about things differently. I approach situations differently.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ 2019 Nation Veterans Suicide Prevention Annual Report, in 2017 veterans died by suicide at 1.5 times the rate of non-veterans, averaging 16.8 veteran deaths by suicide a day. The VA estimates that one death by suicide affects 135 survivors, a far-reaching impact.
“The suicide rates of veterans have gone up. Suicide rates in general have gone up,” he said. “I experienced suicide firsthand when I was a kid and I understand from my dad what family members go through, what friends go through.”
That’s why Lévesque needed to finish his grueling race. He also hopes that by raising awareness of mental health conditions and suicide people will feel more comfortable asking for help when they need it.
“It’s super important that people understand that they can talk about struggles,” he said. “You can’t keep it all bottled up. It’s going to affect you more than you know so it’s really good to be able to express yourself.”
When facing the literal ups and downs of Central Park, Lévesque mentally broke down the challenge into manageable bits. It was only two hours left. Then one hour. Then 15 minutes. After 20 hours and 48 minutes he completed the race. The mental part felt almost as important as physical training.
“2020 has been such a crazy year but you can push through it,” he said. “That was kind of my mentality, like I’m 100% doing it, no if, ands, or buts.”
Though preparing wasn’t easy as giving himself constant pep talks. He trained like he would for any marathon, slowly adding on more miles. But he was bear-crawling them, which requires “a lot of core strength.” On top of crawling, he did a lot of ab workouts and lifted. He also learned that he needed about nine layers of wrapping on his hands to protect them from so much time on the ground.
“It’s one thing to get blisters, but it’s another thing to get like super, super deep blisters where you have to go to the hospital and get them checked out,” Lévesque said.
To date, he's raised over $200,000 for FitOps with his bear-crawl and hopes to do something as impressive again for charity. He’s going to wait until his body recovers, though. But Lévesque hopes he inspires others.
“I heard some people say that that's impossible, that I can't do it. That’s what triggered me, staying true to my word,” he said. “Then just thinking about the cause that I was doing it for veterans and that hopefully it would inspire people to overcome the impossible.”
CORRECTION (Nov. 4, 2020, 3:27 p.m. ET): A previous version of this post misstated that Devon Lévesque completed the marathon last Sunday. He completed the feat last Saturday.