Snohomish teen runs to educate against veteran suicides
Lindsey Hill photo
Tyee Eliason, 13, stands with the American flag on Tuesday, Aug. 6.
SNOHOMISH — Patriotism and suicide prevention: that is why Tyee Eliason, 13, runs through Snohomish five days a week carrying the American flag.
Tyee has been a flag runner since he was 6. His interest in finding other flag runners led him to a Facebook friend dedicated to preventing veteran suicides. That friend was the late Justin Fitch, a U.S. Army veteran and two-tour Iraq warrior who nearly took his own life.
Fitch stopped himself by the memory of a close friend, and his attempt led him to take on a cause. He chose to use his darker moments in life to prevent veteran suicide, and has been credited with halting suicide attempts by being that emergency call people need when depressed thoughts turn dangerous.
Tyee’s dad William brings his son daily to the starting line. Tyee runs 5 miles every day during the summer. It will drop to two or three when middle school in Granite Falls begins. On Tuesdays Tyee runs Avenue D solo, starting at the intersection with Haggen and Safeway. His Granite Falls running group has grown to 13. Eight of them accompanied him in a police-escorted run for National Night Out, where they issued a push-up challenge to the National Guard and fire department. The challenges are a common part of Tyee’s flag run.
Tyee has been a flag runner in Mukilteo, Granite Falls, Sultan and Gold Bar, and plans to spread the message to other cities, his dad says. His next invitational run will be in Everett. He’s making plans to accept an invitation to Boston.
His goal is a worldwide reach, and when asked “Why” he has a simple goal: “to stop veteran suicides.”
He wants the people who see him running with a flag to know the cause of preventing veteran suicide is important — and the only solution is to make sure veterans know there is help. The ones who are not at risk may know someone who is.
Tyee wants veterans to know that emergency calls, retreats and other resources are out there. Suicide prevention has become a priority for Tyee, but also for Veterans Affairs. More than 6,000 veteran suicides occurred each year from 2008 to 2016, a VA report states.
Suicide occurs in a moment of hopelessness, but the action to reach out for help can save a life.
He wants to see a suicide rate of zero.
Speaking of his mentor, Tyee says Fitch started Carry the Fallen, an organization to assist veterans and their families. Fitch spent his final two years fighting colon cancer before dying of the disease at the age of 33.
It was 2016 then and Tyee kept running, an action-based message for the goal he has for others — keep going.
When asked about losing his mentor, he replied, “thousands of people lost him,” and prepared for his morning run.
Carry the Fallen marchers still hefted rucksacks on their trips. The website says the rucksacks symbolize “the burden that many veterans carry post-war or post-trauma.”
Tyee has no personal link to veterans or suicide, and does not intend to enlist later on. “I want to open my own mechanic shop after winning the gold in wrestling,” he said, spelling out his life plan without hesitation.
He speaks of the Active Heroes Retreat Center in Kentucky, which is designed to support military communities where they can enjoy a relaxing, free visit in the company of mental health professionals, a post that stands at the ready when attending veterans want to talk. He wants veterans to know about that option and that they can get help elsewhere too.
Doing something just for the sake of it can spread, his dad says. He sees his son as a leader for his peers, an example to take time out from texting and video games and make an impact.
“People like Tyee will change the world,” William Eliason says of his son. “He’s going to make it better.”
Warning signs for suicide
An emergency call for a person at risk for suicide can save his or her life. If you know someone at risk, make sure they are aware of help:
• Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text to 838255, or chat online at www.Veterans
• Non-veterans and veterans alike can call the Care Crisis Line at 1-800-584-3578, online chat available from 3 to 11:30 p.m. at
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, www.suicide
Be aware of suicide risk and let people know help is available. Warning signs for those at risk include:
• Hopelessness: feelings that there is no point to living, no way to improve the situation.
• Changes in sleep patterns: sleeping too much or too little.
• Mood swings, including sadness or rage.
• Impulsiveness toward risky activities.
• Increasing alcohol use or drug misuse.
• Isolation from family
Warning signs are from the Veterans Affairs Mental Health website. For more information and resources, visit www.mentalhealth.va.gov
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