Mason City couple raises awareness, funds through walking
Raul and Julie Carolus initially started walking as a way to get healthier and spend more time together. As they started racking up badges on their fitness tracker, they noticed a challenge that initially seemed impossible: 100,000 steps in one day.
But after the couple attended a Make It OK Ambassador training in the spring of 2021, they realized they might actually be able to achieve this goal, and support a cause they were passionate about while doing it.
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"Mental health awareness is so important to both of us. We were so impressed with Make It OK and the goals," said Julie. "If we were going to try to do this out-of-the-box challenge, we thought we could add some good to it."
Raul and Julie then started planning their route and determining what supplies they would need for the trek. They started spreading the word to family and friends and created a fundraiser on their Facebook page, Make It OK: One Step at a Time.
"We knew it was going to be a challenge," said Raul. "But it was exciting to do something we had never done before together."
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In order to complete the 100,000 steps within 24 hours, they left their home in Mason City on foot at midnight on July 31. They headed west past Clear Lake and Ventura towards Garner where they turned around and headed back east to complete their step goal. Much of the walk was scenic including a loop around Clear Lake and McIntosh Woods State Park.
"With anything that is big and long, a positive attitude will help you overcome the challenge," said Raul. "When we started out, it was dark. We got to watch the sunrise and interact with lots of great people and dogs. Even when we were tired, we just kept going one step at a time."
We walked 100,000 steps, but what we were really trying to draw awareness to the challenges people with mental illness face every day.
Some of the people they got to interact with included lawmakers Iowa Sen. Amanda Ragan and State Rep. Sharon Steckman. They planned to meet along their route to discuss mental health issues and how they affect Iowans.
"(Ragan and Steckman) were both in agreement that much more needs to be done because there aren't enough mental health services in Iowa," said Julie. "There needs to be more help for people who are struggling."
Raul and Julie Carolus meet with Iowa Sen. Amanda Ragan in Clear Lake during their walk to raise awareness for Make It OK.
Raul and Julie were also greeted with waves and honks from vehicles and other people out walking. When they stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break in Ventura, they realized people had recognized them from the Globe Gazette's front page story about their effort.
Nearly 21 hours after they began, Julie hit the 100,000 step mark at 8:40 p.m. after more than 40 miles of walking. (Raul had to walk a little longer to hit his step mark due to his longer legs.)
"We were physically drained but mentally, it was definitely an accomplishment," said Raul. However, the undertaking wasn't just about achieving 100,000 steps in one day – it was about raising awareness.
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"As daunting as the walk may have been, it's such a minor part of what the whole thing was about," said Julie. "Yes, we walked 100,000 steps, but what we were really trying to draw awareness to is the challenges people with mental illness face every day. If we got one person to realize that, we accomplished our goal."
Through sharing their journey on social media and with friends via email, the couple was also able to raise more than $1,200 for Make It OK. Julie said they're already considering another walk for Mental Health Awareness Month during May: "It was really hard, but in a weird way, it was fun!"
Make It OK is community campaign to reduce stigma by starting conversations and increasing understanding about mental illness. Start by learning what a mental illness really is. Then, find out what to say and not to say when someone opens up to you. You can also help others by sharing your own story to help people know they aren’t alone. Learn more about how you can get involved at MakeItOK.org/Iowa.