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Vets raising veteran suicide awareness by rucking entire marathon

Tim Flair, left, and Nick Kannawin.

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By BRETT A. SOMMERS | The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich. | Published: May 26, 2018

TRAVERSE CITY (Tribune News Service) — People are afraid to ask.

Military veterans Tim Fair, 38, and Nick Kannawin, 32, of Beal City hope that by donning 40-pound ruck sacks for the entirety of Saturday's Bayshore Marathon, people won't be afraid – they'll ask questions, they'll do research and they'll reach out.

The friends have raised over $9,300 as of Friday night for Mission 22 – a non-profit organization fighting the war against veteran suicide.

Fair and Kannawin serve as ambassadors for the organization, which was founded to fund veteran treatment programs, build memorials and bring national awareness, including the fact that the average number of military veterans who commit suicide every day is over 20, according to a Department of Veterans Affairs report.

"We want to get rid of the stigma (of shying away from the topic)," Fair said. "This is helping, more than the dollar amount."

The pair's initiative has gathered momentum by the day, ever since Fair came up with the idea. Family ties have brought Fair and his family to the area for the better part of a decade to celebrate Memorial Day weekend. Usually one family member or another participates in the race, and Fair would serve as part of the cheering section. No one had committed to running in 2018, so he decided it was his turn to run his first marathon.

"Memorial Day weekend was always a big deal to me," Fair said. "I always thought, 'I wish I could do something.'"

Fair had been following the Mission 22 Instagram account for a couple of years and decided to intertwine his effort with the organization. Then he told his gym buddy, Kannawin, about his idea to lug a fully-loaded pack up and down Old Mission Peninsula, and one became two.

Kannawin was in from the start.

"It would be good to do it as a team," Kannawin thought. "The biggest thing when anybody enlists is you're in it together. You do part of it because it's bigger than himself. I've been out (of the service) for a few years. This is my therapy and my way of helping other vets."

With the team formed and the event set, Fair and Kannawin pondered what their fundraising goal should be. They figured it would just be great to get people to visit the Mission 22 website (www.Mission22.com) and maybe raise $500. Kannawin thought they should go big and shoot for $1,000.

The duo hit their mark on the first day of fundraising in February.

"We started $1,000, then $2,022, then $3,022. Screw it, $5,022. Then we hit $5,000," Fair said.

As donations poured in, the first donors were recognizable names – Mom, a buddy. Now as the list continues to grow, the pair doesn't recognize the names any more. Fair said parents opened up to him and shared stories about their sons.

"It's motivating. It's inspiring. It's a very humbling experience," Kannawin said. "Raising awareness on the topic of veteran suicide and getting people to talk is what it's about."

Only one step remains in this mission – to run, or ruck march, the 26.2 miles.

The teammates have been training hard, but spent the last six weeks or so apart, while Fair was in Louisiana for unit training. Until Friday night, they hadn't seen each other since April. The longest trek they took together in preparation for Bayshore was 16 miles about a month and a half ago.

They're not worried. They're ready.

"We wanted the challenge to push ourselves to the limit," Fair said. "We wanted to be broken a little bit.

"It's gonna suck for me at one point, and he's going to push me through and vice versa. That's the cool thing about military guys. There are unsaid things you know. We're not gonna let each other down."

Fair said they'll also be using the "most amazing scenery" and crowds to help push them to the finish line. Each cheering section along the route will become a new landmark beckoning. Fair will be in uniform – he recently reenlisted after originally serving from 1998-2006 – carrying the American flag. Kannawin will carry the Mission 22 logo.

Kannawin said he can't wait to hit the half-way point.

"We're looking at a pace time of 15-minute miles. We want to run that for a ways and get to the halfway point and turn back," he said. "It's going to be an awesome feeling. The crowds will be lined up. We're going to take that motivation in, drive and push through. It's gonna be a great day."

Fair said the response he and Kannawin have received so far has been beyond humbling.

"I think we've helped people by just talking," Fair said.

Of course, they've done a lot more than that.

Anyone interested in reviewing Tim Fair and Nick Kannawin's journey or contributing to its cause can find the team's Facebook donation page at www.facebook.com/donate/191375381462651, which includes posts and pictures from throughout the preparation.

The Bayshore ruck march has also led to another local event. Bowers Harbor Vineyards, of Traverse City, will host a mimosa benefit at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.

The vineyard will offer $6 Pinot Secco and Cider Mimosas to everyone at Bowers Harbor Vineyards and directly donate the proceeds.

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(c)2018 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.)

Visit The Record-Eagle at record-eagle.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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