La Jolla High School grad completes 100-mile run for veterans mental health organization
Going into his 100-mile fundraising run around the La Jolla High School track, Dylan Walsh said he was feeling “a little nervous” but also mentally and physically prepared. Having trained for the run for months, he was motivated by the cause for which he was running: Mission 22.
Mission 22 is a veteran support organization focused on mental health assistance. It is so named because veterans commit suicide at a rate of about 22 per day, according to a 2013 study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. To raise awareness, Mission 22 often holds challenges of 22 pushups, pull-ups or other physical feats per day for 22 days.
Walsh, who graduated from La Jolla High School in 2013, wanted to run 100 miles in less than 22 hours and raise $22,000 for the organization.
He finished in 21 hours, nine minutes and 47 seconds spanning June 18-19.
Fundraising is still underway at gofundme.com (search “100 Miles in 24 Hours or Less”) to reach his $22,000 goal. As of June 22, he had raised $20,380.
Walsh, having graduated from the Naval Academy and later commissioned as a ground intelligence officer in the Marine Corps — where he remains on active duty — became aware of various veteran support causes, but Mission 22 stood out to him.
“In what has been a difficult year for mental health across our nation, and especially for our veterans, separation from friends and family has taken a significant toll,” he said. “I’ve seen peers and veterans and active-duty service members who have gone through some difficult mental health battles. I’ve lost friends to suicide, so this is personal to me.”
For veterans in particular, he added, “once you leave service, what you had and the people you could rely on that are your brothers and sisters, a lot of that is gone. Whether someone does four years or 40 years, that camaraderie and mission mindset that has been engrained in them needs to be found elsewhere as civilian. You need to hit the reset button. A lot of civilians, through no fault of their own, don’t understand that.”
Walsh said he has seen his peers face a range of mental health issues, from adaptation challenges to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Throughout his military service, Walsh completed Marine Corps marathons and ultra marathons on the East Coast. Upon his most recent return from an overseas tour in January, he started training for a 100-mile run in San Diego. However, after Walsh logged his 500th mile in training, it was announced the race was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I realized I had done all this training over the last few months, running 60 to 70 miles a week to make sure my body was in peak shape to run the 100-miler, so in talking to my coaches and realizing there was still support for me, I was encouraged to do it on my own,” he said.
After some modifications to his training in the past few weeks, Walsh recommitted to running the 100 miles as a fundraiser.
“I’m very goal-oriented, so putting something on the calendar and knowing that it’s coming for me whether I like it or not, plus having the support of my family and friends, got me excited about the challenge,” he said.
Starting in the late afternoon June 18, Walsh took to the track and started his extensive run, the length of almost four standard marathons.
“I got off at a faster pace than I was expecting, so that was a little tough,” he said after the race, dazed and rehydrating with an IV of fluids. “In a marathon, you hit a wall toward the end, so I knew there would be multiple walls and I definitely hit them. The first one was at mile 52, and then again at mile 70 and then again in the early 90s when I had to slow down again. There were plenty of walls.”
The worst was around 3 a.m. June 19, when Walsh started cramping and experiencing stomach trouble.
To help him get through it, La Jolla High water polo and swimming coach and ultra-marathoner Tom Atwell met with Walsh — yes, at 3 a.m. — to give him a pep talk.
“Coach Atwell has been a mentor, friend and coach to me over the years … and was able to calm me down and reminded me what I was doing this for,” Walsh said.
He also was encouraged by his “pit crew” and other backers, who ran with Walsh when he needed support and gave him water when he needed to hydrate.
“I had to mostly walk the last eight to 10 miles, but I was walking pretty quick, so hours 20 and 21 were hard,” he said.
Just after 1 p.m. June 19, supporters watched Walsh cross a makeshift finish line, many wiping tears from their eyes.
“He’s an amazing young man … and it’s unbelievable what he did today,” said supporter Mary Mulvihill. “I saw him start yesterday and woke up this morning thinking ‘He’s still running’ and I wondered how he could do it. Not only was he doing it, he was smiling.”
Julie Mayer said: “It’s people like Dylan who are fighting for our country and representing us that remind us on a day-to-day basis that our country is still a great place with great people. He is an incredible human and such an amazing example to all our kids. He’s fun to be around and has an incredible will. What he did today was nothing short of amazing. I saw him at about 5 a.m., and as I left I thought to myself, ‘He still has a marathon to run!’ and that’s after he had run 75 miles. And he did it. It’s awesome.” ◆
Get the La Jolla Light weekly in your inbox
News, features and sports about La Jolla, every Thursday for free
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the La Jolla Light.