‘Challenges that we’ve learned to rise above’ : hikers raise suicide awareness

Published: Aug. 29, 2020 at 5:43 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A group of hikers came together Saturday morning to take on the long hike of South Suicide Peak to share their stories and raise awareness of suicide rates in Alaska.

Led by Bill Pagaran, the hike is called ’Rise Above It,’ where participants sought out to let the people of the state know that there are other ways to overcome the challenges that lead down the dark path of self-harm and suicide.

He was joined by about two dozen people including some notable faces like American Ninja Warrior star, Nick Hanson and a small handful of commissioners within state departments. All of them brought along stories about how suicide has affected their lives—either personally, or from a loved one.

Pagaran began by sharing his own story. He said it was one of abuse, abandonment, and many hardships. However, it ended with hope when he found his faith and created a web of support in friends, counselors, elders, and teachers.

“With all that stuff that happened to me, I could have easily taken the low road,” he said.

Now, he said he’s been married for 29 years with three children. He took his experiences and now shares them in demonstrations like these at schools across the country. He said he’s often joined by his band, Broken Walls.

A number of other speeches, stories, and experiences were shared. Denali Tshibaka shared a poem she wrote in honor of a friend who committed suicide.

In part, it read:

“You don’t have to be close to wonder what you could have done, even if their mind seemed intact. You don’t have to be close to take a stand. You don’t have to be close to make a difference,” she wrote.

Before he was the “Eskimo Ninja,” Nick Hanson said he was on a dark path as well.

He talked about how he’s lost many close friends to alcohol and suicide in his home and neighboring villages in rural Alaska. At one point, he said it became too much, and he rode his bike off of a cliff.

“I personally believe that I didn’t have the handlebars in my hand. Somebody else did, and that was God. He told me, ’there was something bigger and better for you,’” he said.

Before departing for the roughly 13 mile hike to the peak, Pagaran led several hikers in a song on a pow-wow drum they played together. He said it was a song written by his band called, “We are one.”

The organization led by Pagaran is called Carry the Cure. They read a vow at the bottom and top of the peak with the theme of choosing life despite all hardships one might be facing.

Then they were off, starting the hike looking east into the sunrise on a clear day. After they finished, the group agreed that Suicide Peak isn’t the name they want for a mountain overlooking so many people in Alaska. Now, this group will refer to it as the traditional Dena’ina word for “Heaven’s Breath,” for the first people of the land it’s a part of.

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