The Road that Would Forever Change His Journey: Why Michael Zimmerman Runs

Michael (Mick) Zimmerman is a 24-year-old naval officer in the U.S. Navy, and in July 2022, Mick lived an experience that profoundly changed his life and impacted his life journey. These are his words:

If you’ve driven through Massachusetts and onto Cape Cod, you’ve likely noticed some of the beautiful bridges along your way. Each time I drive over these bridges, I always try to sneak a peek out the windows to admire the beautiful scenery along the Cape Cod Canal. As you approach each bridge, most of the highways converge into two lanes on each side of the median. Especially during summer, it gets quite congested, and you’ll often come to a full stop before slowly proceeding up the incline of the bridge. From either direction, large signs with big bold font line the roadway – from the base of the bridge to maybe a quarter of the way up. They’re quite hard to miss especially when the word “SUICIDE” jumps out at you. If traffic is bad and you get to read the signs in their entirety, you’ll notice these signs provide phone numbers to call for help if someone is approaching the bridge with suicidal ideations. I’ve driven past these signs so many times, but I’ve never considered them deeply. Not until that day.

I was heading from the Cape into Boston – I wanted to try “the back-way” into the city, as I had heard it’s a bit of a nicer drive and doesn’t get nearly as much traffic as the main highway. I had only gone this way one other time and figured I’d give it a shot to get around some of the traffic heading into the city.

Little did I know that this decision would change my life, as I witnessed and tried to help someone who died by suicide. On that day, I saw despair in its worst and final form.

Mick says that day caused him to reevaluate how he spends his time, how he views life, and how he supports and cares for the people around him. 

One newfound priority that Mick committed to as a result of this experience is to run the Boston MarathonⓇ as part of Team Samaritans on April 17 this year. We had the chance to catch up with Mick to learn more about why he has chosen to run, how training is going, and how life has been since he witnessed that loss last summer.

How did you get the idea of running a marathon for Samaritans?

I knew I had to do something. I wasn’t able to bring that person back, but I believe it was my fate to be there that day. I never took that road and only decided to go that route on that day. I believe I was meant to be there. Now I feel like I have to do something. Running for hope feels like I am doing something positive with this tragedy. I was over the moon when I learned that I had been invited by Samaritans to participate.  

What has been the best part of training for this marathon?

The journey. I created an Instagram account (@mickrunsforhope) to take pictures of my journey, and I created a spreadsheet to track how many towns, states, etc. I ran in. It’s so motivating to know that each time I run, I am making progress toward my goal and that I’m doing something good in the world. It makes me run faster. I also look forward to posting. It’s so fun to be able to take pictures, post, and share my journey with my friends and family.

What’s the hardest part of training for this marathon?

I would say the overall process – trying to always stretch, warm up, and cool down. It’s time-consuming. When you have to run every day, it’s a good chunk out of your day. But when you have the mission and purpose behind it, it makes the miles seem way less.

How have you grown and changed as a result of witnessing someone lose their life to suicide?

That experience has altered the trajectory of my life. When it is my time to leave this Earth, I just know that this event will be one of the ones in my mind. I have felt sadness in seasons, but I don’t think I have ever suffered the despair that this person must have felt. I think a lot more now about how many people around us are experiencing those same feelings. When I think about that day, I think about that being a catalyst for me having this conversation with you today. It is the catalyst for this fundraiser. It is the catalyst for altering my perspective on life and helping me see how precious it is. I go about my days differently having lived through this, and I try to do my best to use those memories to propel me forward.

What do you wish the world understood about mental illness and suicide?

That it’s okay to not be okay, and that raising your hand to say you are not okay is a really brave thing to do. I also think everyone needs to know how important mental health breaks are. I try to be candid in my captions for the pictures I post because I want what I post to be an avenue for discussion. My hope is that I can inspire people to be more candid and to share how they are feeling. Your feelings matter.

If you want to support Mick in his goal to raise money for suicide prevention through his Boston marathon race, visit his fundraising page.