Tip Of My Cap: Lets Go! Two Friends Become Ironmen and Raise Money and Awareness for Mental Illness

Around 100 Americans die from a drug overdose every day. [1] On April 29, 2014, at the age of 22, Dylan David Hunter was one of those souls. However, like each individual who dies of a drug overdose, he was much more than a statistic. He was a son, a brother, a friend, an artist and a member of a close knit, all-American family.

By his family’s account, Dylan had a great upbringing. He went to great schools and grew up in a family full of love with no shortage of potential. There was no family history of alcoholism or addiction and few warning signs his life would end tragically and so prematurely.

“Depression is invisible, OCD is invisible… so affected people [like Dylan] do all they can to hide it, even deny it…”

That is not to say Dylan did not suffer throughout his foreshortened life. His brother, Adrian, reports that Dylan suffered from “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), dyslexia, and anxiety that in turn translated into severe depression”. Adrian went on to describe how his brother’s mental illness was “…so difficult to comprehend since it [was] often invisible.  Depression is invisible, OCD is invisible… so affected people [like Dylan] do all they can to hide it, even deny it… It affects so many people all over the world in so many ways. But [it is] so hard to understand, to measure, to see.... and, therefore, to fix… To dull [his] pain and frustration, Dylan used drugs”.

With his brother as the inspiration, and to bring awareness to all individuals suffering invisibly from mental illness around the world, Adrian decided to take action. This action took the form of training for and competing in an Ironman Race, which raised awareness and over about $17,000 for the Brain and Behavior Foundation.

Brian (left) and Adrian (right) at the start of the race. Together they raised almost $17,000 for the Brain and Behavior Foundation. 

The Brain and Behavior Foundation awards grants to young, mid-career and senior scientists, who conduct innovative and ‘out of the box’ research to achieve breakthrough advancements and ultimately decode the complexity of mental illnesses. Adrian reports, “that is what appealed to me - their innovative, entrepreneurial approach to these issues… I value that a lot. Current methods and approaches are clearly not helping everyone, as my brother is a testament to that. So we need to think outside the box… In addition, they had great reviews and reputation. It felt right. And they delivered. They were supportive, responsive, and all their follow-ups to people who donated were great”.

Adrian was not alone. Beyond the donors, supporters and well-wishers, his close friend and high school and Santa Clara University classmate (Go Broncos!), Brian Litke, trained, raced and fundraised alongside him. Together, they started out with a $3,000 goal and they sent out a single email. They surpassed their goal within four hours and quickly realized that their message and Dylan’s story was resonating in ways they had not anticipated.

The $17,000 that Adrian and Brian raised came from all over the country and included a generous donation from salesforce.com of $2,500. They are also grateful to the owners of Tonic Bar in SF, who kindly let them rent out and guest bartend for an evening of fundraising. “We auctioned off a signed Giants baseball bat, Giants tickets, a case of wine and gift cards via a raffle.” Adrian was especially proud of the group effort, “my buddies guest bartended and I walked around [selling] tickets. We raised $700 from bar tips and $1000 in raffle tickets. It was an incredible fun night for a great cause, with a huge turn out”.

If fundraising was the easy part, training for the Ironman 70.3 (the official name for the half distance Ironman) triathlon was the challenge. They chose the challenging course of Saint George in May 2016, giving them four months of training. The race is a 1.2 mile swim, followed by 56 miles on the bike, and then a 13.1 mile run. All of this took place about 4,000+ feet above sea level. As if the course was not challenging enough, this year it served as the North American Ironman 70.3 championships, with athletes competing from all over the world. 

“I always reminded myself that whatever pain or difficulty I experienced from my training, it was nothing compared to what Dylan dealt with everyday.”
Their training consisted of workouts six days per week with a gradual build up. Some days they trained twice in a day. By the end of the four months of training they were setting out on 60-70 mile bike rides, sometimes followed by a 1-2 mile immediate run. To train for the swim they did 45-60 minute outdoor swims in the San Francisco Bay. Adrian and Brian credited their Santa Clara University classmate and friend Jackson Dovey (SCU '06), a semi professional ironman, for providing them a successful training schedule/plan. 
Adrian (left) and Brian (right) at the end of the race. Now Ironmen. 

Throughout the long months of extended and difficult training, the important cause they were raising funds and awareness for kept them focused on the finish line. Adrian said, “I always reminded myself that whatever pain or difficulty I experienced from my training, it was nothing compared to what Dylan dealt with everyday.” 
To read more about Adrian and Brian’s race to raise awareness and funding for mental heath or to donate, click here
Others Articles I have written on this topic: 
1) Huffington Post: Other worthy organizations (you should know) that support mental health research and individuals with mental illness.  

2) Huffington Post: How Increased Fundraising and Research Dollars for Mental Health Can Save Lives

Stay tuned!

Dr. Goldenberg
Twitter: @docgoldenberg
The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-matt-goldenberg-do-/
Matthew Goldenberg, D.O. Matthew Goldenberg D.O. is double Board Certified in Psychiatry and Addiction Psychiatry and is a certified Medical Review Officer (MRO). He is an expert in the evaluation and treatment of mental health disorders and is an addiction specialist for adults in his private practice in Santa Monica, California. Dr. Goldenberg also provides addiction psychiatry consultations to some of the nation’s top residential and outpatient treatment programs in the Los Angeles area and is experienced in the evaluation and treatment of professionals working in safety-sensitive positions. In addition to his clinical work, Dr. Goldenberg is an active author, researcher and invited speaker at local and national conferences. He also volunteers his time as a Clinical Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA and is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

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