David Bidler, owner of Freeport gym The Distance Project, will run 100 miles next month to raise money for his nonprofit, Physiology First. (Photo courtesy of David Bidler)

BRUNSWICK — A recent study from the 2019 Kids Count Data Book found that Maine has the highest rate of children diagnosed with anxiety disorders in the country. Freeport-based businessman David Bidler wants to do something about that and plans to run a long, long way raise the money to get it done.

Bidler, the founder of  Physiology First, a nonprofit aimed at helping arm students with breathing techniques and other tools to combat anxiety, will run 100 miles (400 laps) around the Freeport High School track May 18.

In February, Bidler raised $10,000 to help launch the nonprofit reach out to 20 Maine schools. Now, with over 13 visits already done, Bidler is using the run to try to raise another $25,000 to reach 50 more schools going into 2020.

With 16.1% of Maine children aged 3-17 diagnosed with anxiety, Maine is a “phenomenal place to start” and make an impact, he said, although his ultimate goal is to expand Physiology First nationally.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 7.1% of children ages 3-17, or approximately 4.4 million, have diagnosed anxiety. These numbers are steadily increasing, from 5.5% in 2007 to 6.4% in 2012 and only represent children who have had an actual diagnosis.

“It’s a good opportunity to engage students in the area” and start a conversation around mental health in a positive way centered around fitness and overall wellness, Bidler said.

For the past year, Bidler has been working with others to teach students how to use breathing techniques to move through basic states of being — such as being sleepy, awake and alert or panicked. It helps to look at anxiety as a state, he said.

“We do things all the time to change states, like drink coffee, go for runs, take bubble baths,” he said in February, but these are all unavailable during the work or school day. Breathing though, is always accessible. He largely helps teach patterns for inhalation, exhalation and holds. This could include breathing in through the nose for two heartbeats and out through the nose for two heartbeats, but Physiology First is also about tailoring that system to the individual, Bidler said. What works for one may not work for everybody.

Bidler is ready to take the organization on as a full-time job; soon they will be exploring grants, he said. The $25,000 fundraising goal will also go toward continued research with neuroscientists studying how breathing affects the brain.

In the meantime, Bidler is getting ready for his 100-mile run, which he expects will take about 24 hours and will be the main fundraising push. Anyone is welcome and encouraged to participate. 

He has run three 100-mile ultramarathons and one 200-mile run already, and is training on multiple terrains, currently running about 70 miles per week. He posts daily training video-blogs on YouTube to update people about his training leading up to the event. 

“It’s going to be hard no matter what,” he said, but he expects proper nasal breathing will help. Anyone can jump in at any time for whatever distance they want to, he said, and the event will be live-streamed.

“I’m so passionate about this,” Bidler said, adding that anxiety is rapidly impacting the generation that will one day be leading the country and they can help.

“We need to ask better questions about what anxiety means,” he said. “Everyone I talk to says they wish they knew about it earlier.”

To learn more about Physiology First or to donate to the fundraising effort, visit the Physiology First Instagram page or visit physiologyfirst.org.

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