By Emily McCarthy
The parts of life that can unfold and surprise you, better than you could ever have imagined. Not to erase tough times, but to provide support from different angles, light seeping in where life has cracked you open.
In 2019, before I had heard about Chad and Sara Wilkinson, I received a DM from an unknown person about my Rosie the Rucker patch. This person happened to live in St. Augustine where a small GORUCK team (Jason, Rich, Ricky V, and myself) was headed that same day to develop content on how to travel with one ruck and (hopefully) friends. I asked @uncoordinatedathlete to meet us while we were in town - first for a drink at a place called Sarbez! that serves fancy grilled cheeses, craft beers on tap, fun signs, and live music if you stay past 7pm.
This person, who I came to know as Mindi Iannarelli, took me up on the invitation. I learned she was into fitness, curious about rucking, and intent on telling me a story about a man named Chad who died by suicide.
Mindi explained that she had organized a workout in his honor at her local gym, DRiV, and asked if GORUCK wanted to be involved in this memorial workout that consisted of 1,000 weighted step-ups. As this is what we do, I connected her with Cadre Ricky who happened to be leading GORUCK Events in St. Augustine the same weekend as the gym’s memorial workout to raise awareness about suicide. Fun fact: The Cadre brought 20 loaner rucks to the gym and that GORUCK Tough class showed up after a long, sleepless night and participated in the first instance of the CHAD 1000X by GRTs.
Fast forward a few months and I’m on a Zoom call meeting Sara Wilkinson for the first time, synapses firing as I connect the dots of her story with the one Mindi had told me. Years later, I can call Sara a good friend and say that this workout has become an important part of my life. I’ve kept in touch with Mindi and circled back with her recently to better understand why she was drawn to Chad’s story and this workout.
Mindi shared with me that she lost her best friend at age 13 to suicide. Since then, she has lost 7 more friends to suicide and is a suicide survivor herself. In the wake of these losses, she got involved in community walks for suicide prevention and awareness across the country. Spring of 2019, she asked her gym to help raise funds for an upcoming walk. The gym owner, Todd, had worked with Sara on CrossFit seminar staff. Mindi recalls Todd saying, “Absolutely and I have the perfect workout” as he pulled up a post by Dave Castro.
I shared with Mindi the story Sara had told at Chad’s funeral about how he had trained to summit Mt. Aconcagua, the tallest peak in the Americas, by doing step ups with a weighted ruck in his garage. This was the first time Chad’s workout had been shared publicly and, soon thereafter, Castro requested Sara’s permission to do this workout with other members of the CrossFit team — Jimi Letchford, Adrian Bozman, and James Hobart.
Mindi was unaware that Chad had successfully reached the summit of Mt. Aconcagua. Seemingly touched by this fact, Mindi rattled off more statistics on suicide before declaring, “No one was talking about [suicide] before this workout. Here was a person who had a goal. A struggle that was real.” She told me that for every completed suicide, there are 25 suicide attempts by individuals who seek out medical attention. She lamented the individuals who aren’t included in that statistic and the wait times between people getting help. She then said something I’ve heard Sara Wilkinson say many times about Chad’s step up workout:
“This is not a glamorous workout. It is you and a box and your thoughts.”
I believe I was supposed to come across Mindi that day, do a sunrise workout with her at the Castillo de San Marcos fort, and share donuts from her favorite spot (Swillerbees) afterward. Mindi and her hard-fought passion to live paved the way for meeting Sara and prepared us to accompany the heavy work and journey Sara is on to change the number of suicides, one step at a time.
Thank you, Mindi, for being a part of the GORUCK x CHAD 1000X origin story.
— Emily McCarthy