Nfld. & Labrador

Fighting depression with pushups: Avalon challenge hits 4th year

One Renews family is asking people to do 100 pushups to fight stigma around mental health.

A 'scare' with suicide led the Guiney family to talk about mental health through exercise

Four years ago, Bill and Susan Guiney got not one, but two calls that set in motion a now-yearly event that spans the Avalon Peninsula raising money for an issue close to the family's hearts.

The Renews couple say both of their daughters had a scare with suicide within weeks of each other in 2015: simultaneous mental health dilemmas that were improved, in part, by talking about them.

"The scariest part was knowing that the two of them were suffering so silently," said Susan Guiney.

"But after they opened up to us about this, we were able to talk more freely about it. We started to understand their illnesses a little bit better."

The Guineys said neighbours tell them they've become a household name, notorious for their annual Guiney Push-Up Challenge: this year, it's a call for Avalon residents to complete 100 pushups in the name of normalizing conversations about mental illness.

Bill Guiney spent the last 100 days preparing by traveling around the Southern Shore, filming himself doing pushups in various locations.

He got the idea, he said, by trying to think of something nearly impossible he could accomplish in the name of supporting his daughters' recovery.

"I said, 'I'm going to try to do 2,000 pushups in an hour,'" he said. After eight months of training, he nearly hit that mark.

Since then, the couple has paired with the Canadian Mental Health Association, persuading others to join them.

On Saturday in St. John's, Janelle Skeard attended for the first time.

"Anything you can do to reduce the stigma and get people talking more openly … is obviously a great thing," Skeard said.

"Even if you're not directly impacted by a mental health issue, there's a very good chance someone in your life is going through a difficult time. So it's always good to keep those conversation lines open … and be there for people, and let them know that you love them regardless of what they're going through."

The Guineys say conversation helped their family, and hope younger generations will learn from an early age not to stay quiet if they're experiencing worrying symptoms.

They've taken the Push-Up Challenge to schools and youth groups to spread that message.

"The younger they are, the more they can talk about it," Susan said. "And when they see other kids talk about it, they learn how to open up."

There's one more benefit to the challenge, she adds.

"Any kind of exercise is great for your mind."

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