Tristan Edwards-Wright suffered a devastating loss in his life at just 8 years old.
“I lost my father to brain cancer and it was a very tragic and painful loss to see him suffer at such a young age,” Edwards said. “He meant the world to me.”
Watching him endure the final stages of cancer wasn’t the only tragic aspect of Edwards-Wright’s childhood.
“I was sexually abused all this time and he never knew about it,” she said. “I was so young I can’t even remember when it started – it was a neighbor.”
Edwards-Wright moved to California on a whim at age 20, but the masking of deep-seated trauma began to manifest as an addiction.
“I ended up venturing and partying too much and got addicted to drugs for a long time,” she said.
Thrown out of course
She eventually returned to Pennsylvania in 2018 and, feeling isolated in her new hometown, went from drug addiction to alcohol. When COVID hit, she was thrown off course even further despite some high points throughout her journey, including getting married to her husband, Jeffrey Wright, and having a child.
“When COVID hit, it was a huge shock for someone who already had mental health issues,” Edwards-Wright said.
Suicide started to be the only answer that made sense to her.
“It was the end of 2021, Christmas, and I had become suicidal,” she said. “I had just decided that I had to drive off the road with my car drunk.”
She made the attempt and survived, leading her to make another attempt by overdosing on her medication. She survived the second attempt and was cared for by two mental health facilities and then in rehab.
“I made it and they showed me the greatest support,” she said, referring to her close friends and fellow runners who are part of the RUNegades, a Phoenixville-based running club in Chester County. The club is a non-profit organization focused on running and mental health, combined with connection and belonging.
Running has always been a positive outlet for Edwards-Wright.
“For me, it’s the only time and space where I can calm down when I’m running,” she said. “It’s so hard for the personality warped brain to stop overthinking things – I need that release time.”
Edwards-Wright co-founded the RUNegades in 2018 with longtime friend Michael Ragozzino, after forming a friendship as neighbors in Phoenixville. The initial aim of the club was simply to run and have a beer afterwards. However, last year things changed when it became apparent that the members were struggling with mental health issues.
“The commonality we’ve seen from members at all levels is that throughout the pandemic and coming out of it, we’ve seen mental health issues have been exacerbated,” said Ragozzino. “As a result, we saw issues with substance abuse, anxiety, depression, loneliness and isolation.”
This increased need has recently caused the RUNegades to change direction.
“Last year, the focus of RUNegades changed to community engagement and the mental health aspect,” Ragozzino said. “It’s more rewarding to focus more on mental health.”
Tonight, the RUNegades plan to engage with the community to raise awareness of mental health issues through the Creative Health Mile, taking place in Pottstown at 6 p.m. at Heritage Field Airport. It is a one-mile race that is open to all ages of the public and all levels of expertise.
“We’re using the Creative Health Mile to kick off this mental health initiative,” Ragozzino said, adding that it will be the launch of a seasonal outreach approach. “Each season we will focus on a different aspect of mental health.”
In partnership with Creative Health Services
The RUNegades currently have 2,500 members. In addition to hosting two weekly races, the group hosts approximately 15 races per year. For the Creative Health Mile, RUNegades has partnered with Creative Health Services, Pottstown’s community behavioral health center that helps more than 6,000 children, adults and families each year.
Kristen Freitag Murray, director of development and public relations for Creative Health, discussed the benefits of running for mental health.
“We know that people who run benefit from improved emotional well-being, relief from tension, depression, aggression, anger and anxiety, and a boost in self-confidence. self-image and self-confidence, mood and happiness,” Freitag Murray said. “The Creative Health/RUNegades partnership is a great marriage of wellness supports.”
Ragozzino wants everyone, no matter what they are going through, to feel accepted and welcome at his club.
“We want everyone to feel important and we want to hear their story and spend time with them no matter who they are,” he said. “We want people to feel like they have a place.”
Edwards-Wright said she felt the RUNegades members made her feel like she belonged. Plus, she knows she’s not the only one in the group with mental health issues.
“I have several members in the group who have gone through similar circumstances,” she said. “There’s a tension in our group that you can’t really describe – you don’t just walk into a superficial racing group – you walk into a support system.”
Since Edwards-Wright emerged from rehab in February this year, things have been looking up as she celebrates six months of sobriety.
“I finally have my real diagnosis after so many misdiagnoses: borderline personality disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and my husband and I are doing our best,” she said.
About the Creative Health Mile
Elites, Age Groups and Kids… and now parents with pushchairs! No matter your age or level of expertise, this race is for you! Race for a mile on the Heritage Field airport runway! Then we will have music, food and an additional free play area. Compete against your friends in the Connect 4 Relay Race, Can Jam, Rim Shot, Kubb, Slam Ball, Stealth Ab Gaming Machines, Cross Net and MORE!
When: Tonight, Friday, June 10 (register online in advance for the race until 4 p.m.). Bib pick-up and registration day will take place at the Airport Picnic Grove from 5:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Location: 50 Airport Road, Pottstown, PA 19464 (Do not enter the main airport entrance. The address will take you around the back of the airport to the Picnic Grove.)
Times: Children and Strollers 6:40 p.m., Elites 7:00 p.m., Age Group Men 7:15 p.m., Age Group Women 7:30 p.m.
Route: One mile on the airport runway! No one is allowed on the track before 6:30 p.m. or after 7:45 p.m.
Cost: $20 registration online or by mail until 06/17/21. $25 adult registration on race day.
ALL CHILDREN (11 and under) $12 online or $15 on race day.
Source and for more race information: www.runsignup.com/Race/PA/Pottstown/TheSauconyMile
For more information
Creative Health Services