Bear Crawling the NYC Marathon to Raise Awareness for Mental Health

Health and fitness entrepreneur Devon Levesque tells us what motivated him to take on a bear of a marathon

Health and fitness entrepreneur Devon Levesque was 16 years old when he lost his father to suicide, but he didn’t feel comfortable talking about it until just a year ago. Levesque’s own journey towards mental wellness made him realize how toxic it had been to bottle up his emotions, and he made it his mission to raise awareness about mental health. 

After being invited to speak at the FitOps Foundation, a nonprofit organization that trains and certifies veterans to become personal trainers and offers a venue to talk about their time in the military, Levesque felt inspired to raise money for them. So he challenged himself to do the impossible: bear crawl the New York City Marathon route. Devon completed the marathon on Oct. 31 in just under 21 hours. 

He spoke with Wake-Up Call about his mental health journey, why he decided to bear crawl the marathon, and how he hoped it would honor his late father. 

Wake-up Call: You completed this marathon on October 31st. How are you feeling now?

Devon Levesque: I’m still pretty banged up, I’m not going to lie. The nerves in my hands are still not fully there. But overall, I feel decent!

How did this idea come about?

I wanted to do something in 2020 that would impact people in a positive manner. I had been invited to speak at the FitOps Foundation, and when I talked to the veterans there I was really touched by what this organization is doing for them. My buddy and I came up with the idea that I would bear crawl the New York Marathon to raise money for FitOps. 

I trained for 12 months. I already have a very hectic schedule, and so adding in three to five hours a day to bear crawl was a lot. But I knew that I was doing this for the right reasons, so I was willing to push my body. It involved a lot of consistency— waking up at 3:00 a.m. and going out and bear crawl by myself around a football field for hours. I listened to a lot of podcasts.  

Tell me about your father, and how his memory inspired you to raise awareness about mental health?

When I was 16, my father took his life. He was my best friend, he was my coach, and he was my boss, because he owned his own business. He was the guy who I always looked up to. But he was depressed. He was usually a very happy person, but sometimes something just flipped. I remember watching him just stare out into blank space for hours, thinking about things. Now that I’m 28 years old, 12 years later, I kind of understand it. There was a lot on his mind and he wasn’t speaking about it. I’d see him read the Bible, but I never heard him speak about how he was feeling.

When it happened, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my entire life, and I didn’t really know how to cope with it. I think a lot of people that have lost a loved one to suicide understand this, but people don’t really know what to say. Do you talk about it? Is it weird to talk about? Some people will say it was selfish. Most people don’t have any idea what to say. 

I only started speaking about my father’s death about a year ago. Even with my best friends, I never talked about it. If anyone ever asked, what happened to your dad? Or, what does your dad do? I just say, he passed away. I didn’t think it was anyone’s business. It was something I went through alone, and I didn’t realize keeping it bottled up was affecting me and people around me. Once I started to talk about it, I broke down and got really emotional, but it was literally like 100 pounds came off of me. It felt so good to talk about it. And people actually listened. 

People who are struggling need to understand that there are resources and foundations that can help. That’s why I wanted to support FitOps. It’s a place where veterans can go when they need to find purpose again. It’s a place to talk about what they went through in the military, but also to get what they need to succeed in the fitness community — certifications, marketing materials, business models, all that stuff. I think that some people going through mental battles are looking to find purpose again. 

But there’s another important part of mental health, and that’s talking about it and being open about it. Especially in the male community, so many guys feel like they can’t talk about what they’re going through. I think women are much more oriented to talk about their emotions, but men might need to be pushed to do it. I think that causes a lot of mental health issues, when people keep things bottled up. So that’s what I really wanted to bring awareness to. That if you feel bad, it’s ok to talk about it. People will listen. People want to listen.

Since you completed the marathon, what has been the response? 

The support has been remarkable. The amount of people that have reached out, shared, donated… it’s been crazy. I thought I was going to finish the race and see maybe 10 or 20 of my friends there. But there were hundreds of people at the finish line. People flew in from all over the country just to come and support me, which was remarkable, especially during Covid. I just learned that John Cena pledged to match the donations I raise up to a million dollars, which is so cool. The response has been unbelievable.

Was there a point at which you wanted to give up? What helped you to push through?

Funny enough, not really. I had been preparing for this for a year. But around mile 11, I was just so exhausted. I didn’t think I was going to stop, but I was questioning my body, and why I was going slower, and it started to scare me a little bit. But I knew I would still finish. It was just non-negotiable. There was nothing that could have stood in my way, even if I had to bear crawl through sleet or through riots. 

I needed to finish it to prove that the impossible can happen. If you just really focus and get into the flow state, you can do anything. It kind of goes hand in hand with people that are struggling with their purpose in life, or questioning if they should be on this earth. I think people take their own lives because what they’re struggling with feels impossible to overcome. So that’s what I wanted to do — raise awareness about mental health, and overcome the impossible.