A Run for Chris set to honour Waterdown man and raise money to fight addiction issues

A Run for Chris, organized in partnership with St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, is taking place on Aug. 21 at Joe Sams Leisure Park. All donations will go toward a St. Joe's program to help young adults with addiction issues.

Chris Owens, 26, died last year after dealing with mental health and addiction issues

A black and white photo of Chris Owens, smiling and looking to the side.
A Run for Chris is set to take place Aug. 21 at Joe Sams Leisure Park, a spot where Chris used to run a lot. (Submitted by Elaine Mitropoulos)

When Megan Roti thinks about Chris Owens, she'd think about how the charming, magnetic, wild man from Waterdown could always make you laugh, "whether it was an appropriate time or not."

"Sometimes people come in your life and they're a twist of fate and they set you on a different path that you never imagined yourself going down," Roti said.

Chris, 26, was a regular at the Burlington Track Club and the Hamilton Track Club, according to friends and family. He also loved travelling and listening to music.

Friends and family say Chris was not a person most would think was struggling — but he was.

He spent several years living with mental health issues and addiction before he died on Aug. 20, 2021.

Now his family aims to honour Chris' memory through a community event while also trying to help others with mental health and addiction issues.

Chris Owens running in a marathon.
Chris Owens was an avid runner. His best friend Megan Roti said he used running as a way to unwind. (Submitted by Elaine Mitropoulos)

They're doing it the way Chris might've — putting one foot in front of the other and going for a five kilometre run.

"That was his constant therapy, no matter what cycle of life he was in at the time, no matter what hole he was digging himself out of," Roti said.

The Aug. 21 event at Joe Sams Leisure Park, called A Run for Chris, has a fundraising goal of $25,000.

The money will go to the Young Adult Substance Use program at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton.

The program targets people aged 17 to 25 and uses a multi-disciplinary team of clinicians, social workers, addiction specialists and others to help people avoid a lifetime of addiction.

People interested in the program can self-refer on or be referred by a primary care provider or another youth program.

Megan Roti and Chris Owens posing for a selfie. Megan is sticking her tongue out and Chris smiles.
Megan Roti and Chris Owens met when they were in Grade 5 and have been "attached at the hip" ever since. (Submitted by Megan Roti)

Chris' older sister, Michelle Owens, said her "little big brother" was always his genuine self "in every type of setting, even through a lot of his struggles."

His love of music ran deep, she said.

"He used to say he wanted the job of the person who would choose soundtracks to movies and shows," Michelle said.

"I think each of us have a song we shared with Chris that will always remind us of Chris, and our connection."

Chris dealt with a "pretty awful combination" of addiction and his mental health for a good chunk of his life, according to Michelle. 

He was in and out of rehab centres and community outreach programs, including Gay Sober Men, a program run by Alcoholics Anonymous.

Chris and Michelle Owens smiling for the camera while on a paddleboard in the water.
Chris and his sister Michelle shared a love for travel. (Submitted by Megan Roti)

Dr. James MacKillop, director of the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research at St. Joe's, said people aged 17 to 25 may see substance use as a lifestyle choice, which can make it hard for them to deviate from it.

"This can be terribly distressing, damaging to a family and often parents or siblings can be at their wit's end in terms of managing a young person who's really struggling with substance use."

He said people should try to get help, even if they're not ready to reduce or stop their substance use. He also said it's really important for families of those struggling to reach out as well.

Roti said she was surprised how quickly the Waterdown community came together to organize the run and honour Chris' legacy. (Submitted by Elaine Mitropoulos)

There are some 300 people registered for the run in Waterdown. The event starts at 11 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m.

Roti said the community was quick to collaborate and organize the run.

"There was truly nobody else like Chris in the entire world … and I think we are all honoured to have experienced a human being like that," she said.

Roti added she wants the run to be a place for people to experience the "magic of Chris."

"I really think it's our job to carry that forward."

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, there is help out there:


Aura Carreño Rosas

Freelance reporter, CBC Hamilton

Aura Carreño Rosas is a Hamilton-based freelance journalist from Venezuela, with a passion for pop culture and unique people with diverse journeys.