The third annual Suicide Prevention Awareness Night at the Races takes place Friday, Aug. 13, at the Gondik Law Speedway in Superior.
Hosted by Vendela Racing and Paul Davis Restoration of the Northland, the event is part fundraiser, part awareness campaign. Those who attend will find resource tables and face painting, a free bike raffle for kids, tattoo and piercing raffles, face painting by a local tattoo artist and much more. Each trophy will be dedicated to someone who died by suicide. Hot laps start at 6:30 p.m. with races to follow at 7 p.m.
“We started the race three years ago just as another alternative way to bring mental health to a place where you typically wouldn’t expect to see it. And the track was excited about it and our car sponsors were excited about it because everybody’s been touched by suicide,” said Dana Stroschein of Duluth, who has been organizing the event since it began.
She likened it to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s awareness events.
“I just don’t typically see a lot of suicide prevention awareness because that’s one of those things that it’s difficult for people to talk about,” Stroschein said.
Katie Olson of Superior has been part of the fundraising team all three years. Her family has been involved in dirt track racing, and she’s been affected by suicide. A friend died by suicide in 2018 — her senior year of high school — and another the following year.
“Most importantly for me, ever since I lost my couple of friends to this, I want people to know that they are loved and that they matter,” Olson said.
The first year’s proceeds, about $3,000, went to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. About $5,000 was raised last year and went to Warrior’s Next Adventure, a nonprofit that helps veterans heal from post traumatic stress disorder.
This year’s proceeds will have a more local impact. A good portion of the dollars raised will fund activities such as trainings, speakers, retreats and support groups through the Twin Ports nonprofit Rise Above Suicide Stigma. The nonprofit was formed a year ago, Stroschein said, but has been dormant through the pandemic.
“The big goal is to start getting people together, doing groups, doing trainings and things like that, and with the COVID, kaboom, it just wasn’t feasible,” said Stroschein, executive director of Rise Above Suicide Stigma.
The group has a Facebook page that is expected to become active this week. Stroschein said their goal is to connect people and create a peer community of support — a network involving people who are invested because they’ve been there.
“So that when you call a phone number because you’re feeling like you want to hurt yourself, you get a person and you get a person that’s local and maybe you can have a place that you can go and just hang out and be OK,” she said.
Stroschein and Olson, a member of the Rise Above Suicide Stigma board of directors, said they would like to see people talk more openly about suicide. They pointed out the mental health resources available in the area, such as the Douglas County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Amberwing, Lake Superior Community Health Center and the Human Development Center. And they encouraged everyone to come to the races Friday.
“Regardless of if you like dirt track racing or not, we do have resources there,” Olson said. “It’s honestly just a place to connect with other people who may be struggling, who may have lost someone who has died by suicide. It’s just a way to connect to the community, it’s a way to help support others and show that you are there for them.”
Where to get help
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
Douglas County Crisis Line: 715-395-2259
Crisis Text Line: Text "HELLO" to 741741 to speak with a trained listener. The service is free, available 24/7 and is confidential.
Call 911 if there is immediate danger.