This first-ever event was held in memory of Wallenpaupack Area graduate Tyler Whitman
Suicide is something of a taboo subject in America.
It carries a stigma that makes people hesitate to discuss it ... and that's a tragic fact the Whitman Family of Wallenpaupack Lake Estates is anxious to change.
"I really don't know what it is ... I guess it's fear and I understand that," Chuck Whitman told The News Eagle Sunday. "People just don't realize that there's help out there and all you have to do is reach out."
Fifteen months ago, Chuck's son, Tyler, took his own life, an act of quiet desperation that shook his family to its very foundations.
A 2011 Wallenpaupack Area graduate and a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh, Tyler was studying computer science.
According to his dad, Tyler was unhappy and thinking very seriously of transferring.
"We were with him two weeks before he died," Chuck said of he and his wife Sheila.
"I told Tyler that if he wanted to, he could come back home with us that day. He told me that he wanted to stick it out the last two weeks and then decide what to do. That was the last time I ever saw him."
The phone call that every parent dreads came 14 days later at 1:30 a.m. Tyler had taken his own life in his college dorm room.
Chuck's voice breaks and tears well in his eyes as he describes his son.
"Tyler was a great kid," Chuck said.
"He had an amazing sense of humor and he was incredibly compassionate. I think about him every day and I just miss the hell out of him."
Despite being heartbroken, the Whitman Family wasted no time in planning ways to honor Tyler's memory. First on that list was establishing a scholarship fund at his alma mater, Wallenpaupack Area.
Then, in an effort to help fund that endowment, the Whitmans began organizing an event might appeal to the entire community.
That event took shape in the form of a 5K race/walk, the inaugural edition of which took place Saturday afternoon in Hawley's Bingham Park.
To their delight, nearly 150 participants turned up despite the unseasonable heat and humidity.
"I'm so happy to see all these people here today," Chuck said. "I know that Tyler's up there somewhere right now looking down and smiling. He would have loved this."
The Whitman Family is slowly moving forward, each member bravely trying to heal a little bit at a time.
"If we can help just one kid, one family, avoid what we're going through then all this is worth it," Chuck said of all the hard work that went into organizing this inaugural 5K.
"We really want to shine a light on suicide and let everyone know there's no stigma attached to it. If you're depressed or thinking about it, just reach out because there's help available."
Two of Wallenpaupack Area's truly elite runners set the pace for everyone else.
Corey Schmalzle captured the overall crown, needing just 19:21 to cover the 5K course on this steamy early summer afternoon. That time was more than two minutes faster than runner-up Charlie Whitman (21:35).
"It's definitely a little hot and humid, but the course was good and I didn't have any problems," he said. "It's great to see so many people here. I'm really impressed with the turnout."
A senior who starred in both track and cross country during his high school years, Schmalzle is headed for Lehigh University. Corey will be pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering and walking on to the cross country team.
"I have friends who knew Tyler really well, so I thought it was important to come out here and run today," he said. "I wanted to show my support for a good cause and give back to the community a little bit."
On the women's side of the ledger, Stevie Lis cruised to victory.
Another Paupack senior, Lis also authored a stellar distance running career on the track and cross country teams. She clocked in at 23:51, good for seventh place overall.
Her closest pursuer was Deborah Katz who crossed the line ninth in a time of 23:59.
"I was really good friends with Tyler and the Whitman Family so I really wanted to come out and supports them," Stevie said.
"It's amazing to see all these people here. I hope it keeps going. I'll come back every year and run if it does."
Lis is also taking her talents to the next level. Stevie is enrolled at Bloomsburg University beginning with the fall semester. She'll be running on the cross country team and studying marketing.
A total of 140 runners and walkers took part in this inaugural event.
The first 10 home were: Corey Schmalzle (19:21), Charlie Whitman (21:35), Jake Brown (21:47), Justin Schantz (21:59), Noah Toussaint (22:44), Scott Bonagura (23:42), Stevie Lis (23:51), Jared Bochnovich (23:58), Deborah Katz (23:59), Lee Toussaint (24:04).