Giving back to those who are there for us: a marathon for First Responders

First Responders are a special sub-group in the well-being of our communities. The pandemic thrust the people who face crises every day into the spotlight. They have become heroes in our eyes more and more. The Ottawa First Responders Foundation works to support their mental health and this year, they have a young champion running to raise awareness and funds for First Responders and their families.

Jade Aitken is a 16-year-old Ottawan who is getting ready to walk/run her first marathon as part of a family campaign to support First Responders in Ottawa. Jade has been running the past year and a half and will walk (and jog) her first marathon along the Ottawa River Parkway on Victoria Day Weekend. “Over the past few months I have learned so much about the foundation and really wanted to help since we have family and friends on the front-line.”

“I want to give back, especially right now. With COVID, I was wondering what I could do, and what was safe, because this foundation is doing important mental health work. By walking and running I can raise awareness and funds for the front-line. I hope to inspire people my age, and others, to give back too.”

Jade’s uncle, Geoff Walker of Walker Realty, sits on the board of the Ottawa First Responders Foundation, and runs a month-long campaign #4TheFrontLine which donates $1,000 for every home sold during April to the foundation. Many house purchasers match this contribution. Lindsay, Jade’s step-mom, Walker’s sister, and Walker Realty team member, is supporting throughout and lends her expertise having run two ultra-marathons herself. 

“Jade is a natural athlete and a very determined young lady,” Lindsay shares, “It is heartwarming to see her driven and determined at 16, to go to such effort, show leadership and do her part!”

The Ottawa First Responders Foundation supports the mental health of fire, police, paramedics, and dispatchers in Ottawa. The foundation is the long-term vision of Brenda Tirrell, the Founder and President of Ottawa First Responder Foundation, and 9runrun Race Director, which takes place in October each year, and is open now for registration.

Tirrell is a retired volunteer firefighter with a strong vision of first-responder health and well-being through the Ottawa First Responders Foundation. After 10 years of developing the vision and donating proceeds of 9runrun to mental health and community based organizations who ostensibly support front-line goals, she incorporated a charitable organization explicitly for this purpose. After connecting with colleagues about the needs and gaps in services for first responders and their families, Tirrell is now able to build towards a centre of community support specifically for First Responder context. 

“Veterans, retirees, spouses, professionals, and volunteers of First Responder organizations face common experiences and challenges. Children of First Responders also have common experiences we can support them with. There is so much to do, as President, my job is to get the base solid so we can build from there.”

“The city services have a big job with fire, paramedics, and police. Our goal is to compliment the options available,” explains Tirrell. “Each organization has different structures, entitlements, and supports. There are many experiences unique to First Responders, healing and resilience tools are hugely helpful. Mental health and social support are crucial to maintaining the wellbeing of front-line workers. The board members are from all three services. By working together, the three services collaborate on best practices and are able to share what works best.”

An example of the unique, necessary, and complimentary services needed: The Ottawa First Responder Foundation offers a zoom call for spouses of First Responders. 

“Your first responder is coming home after possibly attending ten traumas and as a spouse, knowing how to support them, identify signs of post-traumatic stress, and offer strategies for family, health, trauma, or illness, help spouses feel supported too. In the Zoom meeting, spouses share ideas on how to manage traditions, families can use counselling services tailored for First Responders, and we would like to build a library of resources for kids who often don’t have their parent(s) with them on occasions their peers take for granted, like Christmas, vacations, or birthdays,” offers Tirrell.

Jade’s marathon route will take her from her house in the west end, down the Ottawa River Parkway, ending at Fire Station 53 in Orleans. Friends family and colleagues will follow Jade through the day and bring items to support her walking, running, and resting along the route. “We may have to bike between running points to ensure safety, we will drive or bike the route to map out our plan ahead of time.”

You can support Jade on her quest to complete a marathon in support of the Ottawa First Responders Foundation by donating to OFRF through her fundraising page or you can join the OFFT team today and launch your own fundraising page!