Run for Joy 5K offers some healing amid the hurt for Katelyn Beardsley's family

The Run for Joy 5K, in memory of Katelyn Joy Beardsley, will take place Saturday in Winston-Salem.

Run for Joy 5K offers some healing amid the hurt for Katelyn Beardsley's family
The Beardsley family, with Lawrie speaking, at the Run for Joy 5K in Winston-Salem in October 2021.

As Lawrie and Jim Beardsley talk, and as they listen, they move toward a healing that must seem so distant.

"It's the most bittersweet thing I could ever imagine," Jim Beardsley says. "Dwelling even more that Katelyn is not here is just extremely sad. But doing something that we think could help others is extremely fulfilling."

Katelyn, who used running as a way to combat anxiety and depression, took her life on June 11, 2020, during the COVID pandemic and as she was studying at Wake Forest University's School of Medicine to become a nurse anesthetist. Katelyn's memory will be honored Saturday in Winston-Salem at the second Run for Joy 5K, a race designed to heighten awareness of mental health issues and promote mental wellness and advocacy, especially for health-care trainees.

"I've been surprised how many people have reached out to us," Lawrie Beardsley says, "that they've had a family member that's either attempted suicide or that they have actually completed suicide. People come and talk to us. ...

"It's just really important to be able to talk about things, because you can't heal from anything you don't acknowledge. And I think it really helps people to heal by being able to tell their story."

Jim and Katelyn Beardsley after they ran the Charleston (S.C.) Half Marathon, with Lawrie, in 2018.

The Beardsleys, who live in Greensboro, will tell their story and hear others this week, just as they did last October, in a race now sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

Through a connection with Winston-Salem runner and event gold sponsor TeriLyn Adams, 2004 Olympic runner and TV analyst Carrie Tollefson will be a guest on race day. Tollefson, who lives in Minneapolis, also hosts a popular podcast, C Tolle Run. And Winston-Salem attorney and 31-time Ironman finisher David Daggett will serve as emcee.

'We believe that God is sovereign, and we believe that she is in heaven. But it's still sad, and we miss her. I just want people to know that it's OK to talk about it. It's OK to talk about not feeling OK.' – Lawrie Beardsley

"We're trying to really be able to directly help the students," Lawrie says, "so we actually became Run for Joy LLC so that we could have better opportunities to be able to utilize the money for students. That's health-care students, not just nurse anesthetists, but also any trainee. ...

"When we think about COVID, we just realized she was considered one of the health-care workers that took their life, and there were many that did during COVID. We just didn't really understand the impact that COVID had."

Katelyn confronted anxiety and depression going back to high school, her parents say. And reflecting what her parents and sisters Natalie Steinhour and Rachel Beardsley are doing now, Katelyn even helped others through their pain while struggling to deal with her own.

"We want people to remember how she lived," her mother says. "When another (nursing) student was really reeling and not doing well, she actually got her and took care of her and took her to treatment."

In an interview last fall, she recalled Katelyn's caring nature.

"She loved giving gifts," Lawrie said. "She loved being encouraging. She would sit with people at their highest highs and lowest lows. I know of four people she saved from suicide."

Physical pain, as it turns out, proved less the challenge for Katelyn, whom the Beardsleys considered the family's quarterback. Her parents recall Katelyn's surgery for hip dysplasia and a doctor thinking she'd be unable to run for the remainder of the year.

"'Oh, I'll run," Lawrie remembers Katelyn telling the doctor.

Five months later, Katelyn ran a half marathon.

There's also the time Katelyn spoke with Lawrie via earphones while cycling but had to jump a curb to avoid an accident, crashed over her handle bars and broke a wrist.

"Mom," Katelyn said, continuing the phone call, "I think I need to take myself to the urgent care."

"She had grit, man," her mother says.

'I just had my 60th birthday party, my husband did, and that was a very sweet thing to do. And it was great to have my other daughters there and some friends to celebrate. But you're always aware that there's someone missing. Or when you go have the beach photo or anytime you have a family photo, you're always aware of who's missing. But you still can enjoy things. We're trying to enjoy the life we have, but we're always aware of it.' – Lawrie Beardsley

The Beardsleys, who lean on their faith, are invested in health care at multiple levels. Lawrie is a physical therapist for Cone Health, and Jim is an infectious disease pharmacist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and teaches in the Wake Forest School of Medicine. Besides the impact that anxiety, depression and COVID made on Katelyn's life, the Beardsleys are strong believers that mental health issues still don't have society's full attention.

"We need to be able to address this for our kids," Lawrie says. "We need to be doing a better job. ... I know that for therapists, there are waiting lists. Rachel is at Chapel Hill, and she was encouraging a friend to get counseling and you can't get one for six months. We are in a crisis as far as having resources for mental health."

Jim Beardsley, for his part, uses his lecture at the medical school on anxiety, depression and medications to bring home a point about the impact but also to offer himself as a resource.

"Since Katelyn has died," Lawrie says, "he always talks about it. And then he puts Katelyn's picture up there and he talks about when you're describing medications to people, these are people's daughters or wives or husbands or uncles or people that they love. He just tries to put a human face on it, and he shares a story. And my husband also gives his cell phone number to every medical student, every first-year medical student."

The Beardsleys tout the phone number 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, plus resources such as The Depression Project on Instagram and the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

They also encourage parents to talk to their children.

"Are you OK?" Lawrie asks. "Are you really OK? Are you thinking of hurting yourself? Do you have a plan? We actually need to not be afraid to ask questions.

"We clearly are a vocal family, but I don't think we asked those questions. We didn't ask them enough. We knew she was sad sometimes, but she was a very accomplished student. You always look back on what you could have done, but we just don't want another family to just not know."

So the Beardsleys will keep talking, and they'll keep listening.

"I am a little surprised at how much it still hurts," Jim says. "I mean, like really, really, really hurts at the depth of your soul.

"And also, as you're out there, you realize there's a lot of other people who really, really hurt. As we're trying to be open with some of the pain that we've had, people will come to us and share their pain. You realize there's a lot of hurt people out there."