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Bend athlete plans cross-country triathlon fundraiser for Mental Health Awareness Month

'It's okay not to be okay,' Justin True says

(Update: Adding video, comments from Justin True)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Bend resident Justin True has fought many battles in his 30 years, not only in mixed martial arts but an unseen one people often face alone: depression.

“Finding mixed martial arts, I felt like it was something I could handle, something I was used to," True said Tuesday. "I was used to getting punched and beat, and I realized I was tough -- and I was really good at it.”

True found a passion for pushing himself to the limit early on, through his training in mixed martial arts. He trained out of Bend and traveled all around the world to hone his skill, including to gyms across the United States, Netherlands, Belgium and Asia.

Still to this day, he draws on lessons he learned in the octagon to help him push through crippling depression and inspire others.

“Back in the fighting days, when pinned against the cage, you had one of two options: Get up and keep fighting, or accept defeat and get beat down even more,” True said. “You need to keep fighting, whether it’s against life or the emotions in your head telling you to give up. Even if it’s just one more second, those seconds add up to minutes, then to days. Eventually, those battles add up to winning the war.”

Growing up with a very rough childhood and strained family relations, True said he attempted to take his life -- twice.

“I didn’t pay attention to anything that was going on in my head," True said. "I just blocked off and put a steel curtain up. That was the worst thing I could possibly do. I think what we all do is, we don’t talk about our feelings. I thought, ‘I didn’t choose to be here, why am I here?' You know -- 'I didn’t choose to be born, so why can’t I choose to leave?'”

True said he decided at the young age of 18 that he couldn’t continue living through the traumatic events that scarred his psyche. Even after being tortured, burned, threatened and locked in a cage, he found a reason to keep pushing forward.

Through his desire to help others experiencing tough times, True is launching True Triathlon - billed as the longest triathlon in U.S. history - in May, to foster greater mental health awareness. The goal is to raise $500,000. He’s partnering with a charity called Bigger Than The Trail that focuses on supporting those struggling with mental health through running and treatment options.

True hopes that the triathlon will serve as both and a platform for discussing mental health and a fundraising catalyst. He has invited anyone who is willing to join him along his route for as long as they would like. As he undertakes each leg, he hopes well-known athletes, actors, musicians and thought leaders will join Justin for segments, creating space to share their own stories. True plans to document the True Triathlon and the stories shared along the way as part of a feature film.

“Sixty-mile swim along the Atlantic shore, and I’ll be swimming into Miami from the south. And then I’ll be cycling from Miami, 3,400 miles across the States, to San Diego," True said. "Then running 600 miles north to San Francisco, ending at the Golden Gate Bridge.”

While this might seem like a physically insurmountable task, True’s past mental and physical challenges have prepared him for this new test. His past endeavors include completing a tandem 150-mile bike ride through the Oregon Cascades, an Olympic triathlon carrying a 90-pound concrete Thor hammer, a marathon while pulling a truck 26.2 miles and a 29-day, nearly 500-mile, walk across Madagascar in which he encountered numerous life-threatening situations.

We've reported on True's "adventure athlete" activities before -- a 24-hour-straight workout, the time he towed a car 26 miles on foot.

“The triathlon is such a perfect metaphor for what I’m trying to convey, ” True said. “Swimming in the ocean symbolizes life’s waves — sometimes you can't tell up from down, but eventually you’re going to hit a clear spot, and at some point, the rough part’s going to end.”

True said he hopes to break the stigma surrounding mental health, while showing others the “undeniable power of speaking their truth.”

“We need somebody to care, and I think, yeah, just ending the stigma around it -- that 'you’re not crazy, you’re normal,'" True said. "It’s okay to not be okay.”

Article Topic Follows: Sports
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Bola Gbadebo

Bola Gbadebo is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Bola here.

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