University of New England freshman Kevin Thibodeau, 18, of Georgetown, is pictured at UNE’s Biddeford campus on Thursday.

University of New England freshman Kevin Thibodeau, 18, of Georgetown, is pictured at UNE’s Biddeford campus on Thursday.

BIDDEFORD — Kevin Thibodeau, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of New England, is turning an exercise into hope for those struggling with or affected by depression.

Through Dec. 1, Thibodeau, who grew up and lives in Georgetown, will be collecting donations for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and for every dollar he raises, he will perform one burpee – a full-body exercise that involves swiftly dropping to the ground to perform a pushup, entering a squatting position, then jumping into a standing position.

For Thibodeau, burpees are typically a form of punishment. Since April, he has participated in three Spartan races – obstacle-course races that are held worldwide and vary in distance from a few to dozens of miles – and the penalty for not completing an obstacle during a Spartan race is 30 burpees, Thibodeau said Thursday, sitting in a study room on UNE’s campus.

“So I decided to take the burpee and turn it into a form of hope,” he said, adding that he has named his charity workout the Yellow Spartan Movement because of its ties to Spartan races and because yellow represents suicide awareness and suicide prevention.

Thibodeau, who is studying psychology, said he hopes his workout and the money he raises will bring awareness and, more importantly, action to mental health issues.

“You have a broken arm and everyone comes up to sign the cast, and when you have depression, it’s like you have a broken heart, you’re looked at as an outcast,” he said. “I hope to one day see a day where they’re equal and, if anything, more attention is paid to those who have depression or anxiety and just need that friendly pick me up.”

Thibodeau said losing three friends to suicide – the first his classmate at Bath Middle School and the others his classmates at Morse High School in Bath – was primarily what drove him to get involved.

“It shook me,” he said of the losses. “It was clear there was something going on. It wasn’t that there was a lack of awareness but a lack of action.”

As a young teenager, Thibodeau himself struggled with what he called “severe, severe depression,” which also led to anorexia and bulimia that caused him to rapidly shed 75 pounds as he transitioned from middle to high school.

But later in high school, Thibodeau began intense physical training, exercising three to four, sometimes six, hours a day, he said.

He began participating in 5K races before a family friend turned him on to Spartan races. In his first one, on April 18, he placed 116th out of about 5,000 participants, and by June he had completed two more, earning what’s known as the Spartan Trifecta.

Looking ahead, Thibodeau said he plans to participate in many more races – obstacle and non-obstacle ones alike, and even ones that stretch farther than a marathon. On Saturday, he will run in the Bath Rotary 4-Way 5K, and he said he plans to complete as many laps as possible until everybody finishes.

While he has made tremendous physical strides, Thibodeau said he is still “wicked self-conscious” – a testament to how difficult it can be to identify mental illness.

“Just because it’s over physically doesn’t mean it’s over mentally,” he said. Part of the AFSP’s mission is to spark conversations about mental illness at places such as schools to educate people on the warning signs of suicide and how they can help those dealing with conditions like depression and anxiety, said Thibodeau.

As of Thursday afternoon, Thibodeau’s Yellow Spartan Movement had raised $1,169; his goal is $2,500 and he hopes to raise even more.

He plans to perform a burpee for every dollar raised on Dec. 12, starting in the morning and finishing when they are all complete. The workout will either be at the YMCA or a crossfit gym in Bath, he said, depending on how much money he raises and how many people attend the event.

“We’re hoping to make it a relatively big event,” said Thibodeau, adding that the workout will also be livebroadcasted and posted on YouTube for anyone who wishes to watch it remotely.

To donate to the Yellow Spartan Movement visit www.gofundme.com/yellowspartan.

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]


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