Sunday, January 10, 2016

Never End The Fight, an interview with Justin Macaluso

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet up with, and interview my former student, Justin Macaluso.  Justin is currently a sophomore Education student and tennis player at Roger Williams University, and he’s the creator/founder of, "Never End The Fight."  During 2015, Justin, his family, and his friends, experienced a painful personal tragedy that would test them as individuals and as friends/family.  Justin’s older brother and only sibling, Dylan, was an amazing human being, honor student, and athlete throughout his entire life and high school years. He received numerous recommendations and scholarships. 

Once away at the University of Richmond, several events triggered Dylan to experience mental illness, mainly depression and social anxiety, and sadly he chose to self-medicate his problems away and then suffered from the disease of addiction as well. Smoking pot led to painkillers, and eventually an accidental heroin overdose. Unfortunately, this is an all too familiar story across America. Out of the tragic loss of his brother, Justin and those around him, have begun to build a strong network of support and a growing club of runners.  "Never End The Fight," is a mantra of this network and the future looks bright for this group of friends as they look to educate the nation one 5K at a time.  Here is a recap of the interview with Justin that took place on December 22nd, 2015.

TheDailyFitnessJournal:  Justin, it's a pleasure getting together with you to chat and learn more about what you are working on these days.  Dealing with your loss during 2015, where have you and your family come in the past few months and heading into 2016?

Stryker (L) the runner, Charlie (R)
the cheerleader!
Justin:  Over the past few months, it's been difficult.  I have had hard days, some worse than others.  My roommate, Grant, he would tell you.  Some days I would not say anything, nothing, just upset, mad, not talking.  Some days, Grant would ask me how I was, if I needed anything, and I would just say, "I can't talk, not talking right now."  He would always say, "O.K., I'm here when you want to." Right from the start, right after finding out about my brother, my friends were there for me.  The tennis team and the captains, immediately they were like, "Justin, whatever you need we got you.  We are here for you.  Go be with your family.  We will be here."  They check in with me all the time.  Of course, my girlfriend, Emily, is always there for me, as well as my roommate at school and fellow tennis teammate, Grant Rosenberg.  Also, the Tasik brothers, Kyle and Brad, here in Wyckoff, are good friends and their parents are really supportive.  Through all the support, my day to day has been filled with a lot of emotion and fight to move forward.  

TheDailyFitnessJournal:  During this time, is that when and how "Never End The Fight," came to be born?

Justin:  Yes, it's something that really started with me as a personal mission. It’s a way to get out of the bed and get to class sometimes.  "Never End The Fight," is like my mantra on a bad day or when I'm trying to get through a task or something.  If I'm having a tough morning or I have a big test coming up and I need to get after it, I will say to myself, "Let's go.  Never end the fight.  Get up, move, get to class."  During the fall, this was also the time when I started to think about the WEF Run in Wyckoff and I mentioned it to my dad as something I wanted to run in again and kind of do for my brother, Dylan.  About three weeks before the race, we brainstormed the idea and were talking about it and my dad mentioned doing some shirts for the run and the idea began to take off. It was really my dad's idea to use Never End The Fight on the Tee shirt.  He just basically said the idea is right there for everyone.  Spreading the awareness that both mental illness and addiction are diseases that need 
support, not stigmas,  that is Never End The Fight.

From there, we had the shirts done and as a group we hit the WEF 5K as a strong, supportive team in October.  A bunch of my friends that heard I was going to be in town for the run, even friends that weren't runners, said, "Hey, Justin, I want to run too.  I'm coming back from school.  We are going to run together."  It meant a lot, because most of these guys weren't runners, some were football players, or lax players, but they didn't hesitate to show up that day and we all did the 5K together.  We had the shirts made, passed them out, raised some awareness for Never End The Fight, and NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI.  It turned out to be a great day.  

TheDailyFitnessJournal:  Is this how the running connection came to be through Never End The Fight, the Wyckoff Education Foundation 5K?

Justin:  Yes, running started just before then for me.  It was really something just for me you know. Running is great therapy and you can just go out and do it.  Some days I would just go and say I don't care, I'm just going out and I'm going to run 3 miles today or 5 or 2 or 1 mile, whatever.  That's when I really started to run and make the connection between the running, the 5K's, and my mission to spread the awareness and education of how addiction is really a disease that anyone can be affected by.  That's really what it's all about for me, with Never End The Fight, and the tee shirts, and the bond of friends/family.  I want to get the word out and get people to understand.  I remember being in health class back in school and hearing the talks and lessons about drugs and how bad they are, but you don't know until you have gone through it and lived through love ones struggling with addiction. Also, the pain of losing someone to addiction is awful; but people need to understand that they can reach out to someone and talk about it. Look for someone's help and allow them to help. That's also how NAMI is connected to Never End The Fight.  

NAMI is a great organization that helps people find supports, and even understand support, and breaking down the barriers of the stigma of mental illness and its connection to addiction.  People don't usually understand that addiction often starts with depression or anxiety, or something that a person is dealing with. Then they try to fix it, self medicate to fix it.  Then, they have a drug problem. I want to help people be aware of this, understand this, not hide from it, and not judge these illnesses.

TheDailyFitnessJournal:  Is this what the future of Never End The Fight is?

Justin:  Yes, there really are a few things in the future for Never End The Fight hopefully.  I want to get the group to a recognized non-profit status, for sure.  Also, short term, my family and the team, we want to continue to give out the shirts, show up at races, and race as the team.  We want people to see us and talk about it.  Some longer-term goals for us are to go on a larger, even national level with awareness and recognition for Never End The Fight and NAMI.  I would love to get to do school visits in the future and talk to people, schools, groups about addiction and my story of Never End The Fight.  Finally, a short and long term goal combined, we would like to get a 5K organized of our own. It would be a race dedicated completely to our cause and have the focus completely on the things we are trying to do.

TheDailyFitnessJournal:  Finally, I wanted to touch on a post from a social media site that you made a little while back that I think speaks volumes.  Do you remember when you posted that you were, "Not Okay" and that it was okay to say this to someone?  

Justin:  I do remember that, it was a tough day!  I wanted to say that because that's part of the deal with addiction and mental illness, and people being alright with having a tough day and needing someone there to be by their side.  Sometimes, it's okay to say to a friend, a family member, someone that, "Hey, I'm not okay today, or right now in this moment.  I'm having a tough time.  I need help."  Too often people don't admit it, for fear of bothering the other person, or not being able to ask, or simply being afraid to ask.  That was my day to say to my friends and family that I was not okay.

TheDailyFitnessJournal:  Is there anything you want to add or anyone you wanted to mention?

Justin:  Absolutely!  My mom and dad have been so supportive of my efforts and have really gotten behind my mission of Never Ending The Fight.  Both have given me great advice, support, strength, running tips, and I could not do it without them.  Also, my cousins, the Rice family. Will, Owen, and Gabby are all amazing, willing participants in the 5K's and have really been great teammates that are proud to wear our blue team shirts!  Thank you so much for sharing your story a little Justin and I look forward to joining you on New Year's Day in Fair Lawn for First Day 5K! 



Here are some important links so you can find Justin, NAMI, Never End The Fight, and others!

Never End The Fight Facebook
Take the Stigma Free pledge here at NAMI!!
National Alliance on Mental Illness

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