Jesse Gernigin and his friend Heather pose for a photo after finishing a recent 20-mile run. Gernigin, an East Alton native, is preparing to run in the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 9 on behalf of Erika’s Lighthouse, an organization focused on combating adolescent depression.
EAST ALTON — A Winnetka, Ill.-based group has a mission to fight adolescent depression, and an East Alton native is taking up the fight as well.
Jesse Gernigin, 31, of East Alton, is running in next month’s Chicago Marathon to raise money and awareness for Erika’s Lighthouse, a nonprofit organization that aims to educate school communities about teen depression, eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness and empower teens to take charge of their mental health. The group helps not only teens but also young adults, parents, schools, health professionals and community organizations in combating depression.
Gernigin said he began preparing for the 26.2-mile race about a year ago, when a friend who works with the organization asked if he would be interested in taking part.
“I do a lot of big endurance challenges — I go on multi-day climbs, I love things like that. And she said, ‘I would love to do this with somebody that I know, and you’re pretty much the only person I know that’s going to take on a challenge this big,’” Gernigin said. “So, that’s how I ended up getting introduced to both Erika’s Lighthouse and the marathon.”
Since then, he’s run more than 500 miles in preparation. He’s nearing the end of a 30-week training course that has left him with “achy knees, sore hips, blisters, chapped thighs, sunburns and more.”
Through his participation, Gernigin set out to raise $1,500 for the group. With a few weeks left to go before the race, he has already raised $1,125 toward that goal. As a team, runners for Erika’s Lighthouse had raised $48,456 of a $52,500 goal as of Sept. 22.
“I’ve done the hard work to get to the starting line,” Gernigin wrote in a message to friends and family in early August. “Now I’m asking you to help me do the good work and cross the finish line.”
And while he only recently became involved with the organization, Gernigin said recognizes the utility of the nonprofit and its mission.
“It’s something that is radically undertreated. I have a lot of people in my life that, it took them a long time to get assistance for other things like anxiety or stress. And those are, in my eyes, incredibly small compared to the bigger monkey that is depression, so when I thought about it, I thought, man, if people with small issues feel really uncomfortable and have a hard time getting treatment for something that can really be treated away pretty quickly, something as big as depression — that takes ongoing counseling, for some people medication, for some people a mixture of both — I can understand why (the organization) is important,” Gernigin said.