David Quisberg wants to raise money for a community cause that's also personal by rowing his way to his $35,000 fundraising goal, which he hopes to reach in a single day.
Quisberg is a supporter of the Smiles for Jake movement. He came up with a Sunday, June 9, fundraiser for the nonprofit that hopes to prevent suicides like Jake Haapajoki's.
"I've struggled with depression and anxiety for over 20-some years and just kind of always sat in the background and then last year when we had a couple of suicides with our youth, it just kind of drove me to the point where I just couldn't sit back anymore," Quisberg said.
Haapajoki was a 16-year-old Brainerd High School student when he took his own life on Feb. 21, 2018, to everyone's surprise, including those closest to him.
"I wanted to do something about it, and fitness has been a big lifesaver for me, and I've been going to the CrossFit (Grow) gym here in town for four years, and I asked the owner if we could do a fundraising event," Quisberg said.
The event is intended to raise $35,000 for Smiles for Jake and awareness about mental health, anxiety and depression. Participants can make a donation to use one of several rowing machines Sunday at CrossFit Grow in Baxter.
"The rowing machines are a machine that anyone can do no matter what level of fitness you're at ... so we decided to do a rowing event," Quisberg said. "We're trying to accomplish something as a group in the community by rowing over a million meters in one day as a group."
Quisberg also challenged more than 100 other CrossFit gyms to have their own rowing fundraisers to raise awareness and money for a cause or charity in their own communities.
"People don't have to row," Quisberg said of the Baxter event. "We want people to come and cheer each other on. We also have yard games in the parking lot ... and we're going to have a dunk tank, and there will be people to answer questions with Smiles for Jake."
The rowing machine is the gym's most underrated piece of equipment, according to a GQ story last year. And Row House, a boutique fitness concept, claims it is one of the most effective forms of full-body exercise, a low-impact workout that engages 85% of the body's muscles.
"We ask for a $30 donation to rent the rower for the half-hour, and you get a T-shirt, and all the proceeds go to Smiles for Jake. We've had about 95 time slots reserved at this point," Quisberg said Thursday about registering via Million Meters Row's Facebook page.
More than 1 in 4 residents in Crow Wing County have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and depression and anxiety are more common than diabetes, with almost 28 percent of adults in the county impacted by mental illness, according to a Crow Wing Energized survey.
Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in America for those ages 18 to 44, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, making Sunday's fundraiser all that more relevant.
"We're going to have 14 or 15 rowing machines on hand ... so if people want to drop in (the day of), they can. ... Our ultimate goal is to rid the stigma around mental health, help those without a voice or hope," Quisberg said.
What may make Smiles for Jake different from other suicide prevention efforts is its focus on uplifting community, because those behind the Smiles for Jake movement are not mental health professionals.
"I reached out to Eryk Haapajoki as they were doing their launch for Smiles for Jake, and I just asked him if it would be something that they would like to team up with us for," Quisberg said of Jake's father.
Quisberg is a 35-year-old husband and father from Brainerd who owns and operates a couple of Holiday Stationstores in the Brainerd lakes area. He plans to purchase CrossFit Grow, which is about 2 miles from the Baxter office of Consolidated Telecommunications Co., where Eryk Haapajoki is the director of sales.
"Born in and spreading from a community that experienced the suicide of a beloved son, our short-term goal is to reduce the suicide rate, and our long-term vision is to stomp out suicide worldwide," said Quisberg, who admittedly abused alcohol and was suicidal.
Quisberg teamed up with Northern Pines Mental Health Center for last year's rowing-based fundraiser for Northern Pines' new initiative called "Zero Suicides."
"Our community has been hit hard as many have with teenage suicides, and Smiles For Jake is a suicide prevention movement that spreads positivity through life-affirming actions, listening ears and the message that everyone should have hope," Quisberg said.
Suicide prevention assistance
If in a crisis or in need of help-or know someone who is-call the Crisis Line and Referral Services at 218-828-HELP (4357) or 800-462-5525. The phone line is answered 24 hours a day by local, trained volunteers providing free, anonymous and confidential advice. Those who prefer to text for assistance can text MN to 741741 and will be connected to Crisis Text Line.
Million Meters Row 2019
• What: Smiles for Jake suicide prevention fundraiser.
• When: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, June 9.
• Where: CrossFit Grow, 15620 Edgewood Drive N., Baxter.
• Contact: David Quisberg at 218-851-9135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.