Pembroke man will run Ottawa half-marathon to honour his daughter, raise money for charity

“People I’ve never met in my life are e-transferring money, and then I reached $10,000. I just literally got goosebumps and shed a few tears because I just couldn’t believe it.”

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A Pembroke man is lacing up his running shoes to raise money for a local charity and to honour his daughter, who died last year from an accidental drug overdose.

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Steve Wood, who is running a half-marathon next weekend as part of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, is fundraising for the Robbie Dean Centre, a charity with locations in Pembroke and Renfrew that provides counselling and assistance to families struggling with mental health disorders and addiction.

It is a cause close to Wood’s heart. His own father died by suicide and he knows what it is like to grapple with depression. Running has provided an outlet for him to clear his head, and in 2020 Wood began raising money for the Robbie Dean Centre when COVID-19 interrupted the centre’s fundraising activities. He has kept the tradition going since then, but this year his run has an added layer of significance.

Taylor Wood, Steve’s daughter, was 29 when she died. Her life, and her death, reflect issues of mental illness, addiction and a toxic drug supply that is wreaking havoc on families across Ontario.

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“Taylor was an amazing kid,” Wood said in an interview on Saturday. “She was full of life. She was fun and loved to laugh.”

Taylor Wood, Steve’s daughter, was 29 when she died last year from what he described as an accidental drug overdose.
Taylor Wood, Steve’s daughter, was 29 when she died last year from what he described as an accidental drug overdose. Photo by Steve Wood photo /Handout

Steve and Taylor shared a love of heavy metal music and she lived a normal teenage life, he said, until Grade 8, when bullying at school tipped her into a spiral of depression and anxiety.

She dropped out of school, held down a part-time job for a time, but then moved to Oshawa, where her depression seemed to worsen.

“She never got help,” Steve said. “It just got worse and worse every year. I love my daughter, but there were times we couldn’t talk on the phone really because I couldn’t relate to the life she was living. You try to understand it, but you just can’t. I could never understand how you could just not go to school. It really took me looking into the mental health side of it — it wasn’t her fault. She just physically couldn’t go to school. She was so anxiety-ridden that she couldn’t go. I get that now, but years ago I didn’t.”

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Taylor also entered an abusive relationship, Steve said, and was urged to try cocaine, which, unknown to her, was laced with fentanyl, causing a fatal overdose.

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid, and advocates have warned that it is increasingly finding its way into drugs in Ottawa and across Canada. Opioid overdoses were directly responsible for at least 127 deaths in Ottawa last year, Ottawa Public Health said. Ontario’s COVID-19 advisory table noted a significant increase in opioid-related harms, particularly fatal overdoses, during the pandemic. The table said Ontarians needed broader access to addiction, mental health, and harm reduction services to combat the crisis.

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The Robbie Dean Centre was established to fill such gaps in areas where resources weren’t always available. Monique Yashinskie founded the centre after her son, for whom the centre is named, died by suicide in 2011. She was frustrated by the lack of support available in Renfrew County.

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The centre offers counselling and a variety of support groups.

Last year, Wood raised more than $6,000. This year, he was hoping to raise more, but he said he had been overwhelmed by the support he had so far received. Already, with the help of social media, he has raised more than $10,000, a new record for him.

“People I’ve never met in my life are e-transferring money,” he said, “and then I reached $10,000. I just literally got goosebumps and shed a few tears because I just couldn’t believe it … People have just responded to this in such an amazing way.”

Wood recently toured the Robbie Dean Centre and gained an understanding of where the money was going and how it would be spent.

“It kinda lit a bigger fire under me to make sure that place stays open,” he said.

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More than for money reasons, Wood says he is also running to spread awareness. He wants families to know the centre exists and they should reach out to seek help if they need it. He also wants to help fight the stigma around mental health issues.

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“I want people to know, yeah, my daughter died of an accidental overdose, but she didn’t mean to die,” he said. “This could happen to any family. There’s that stigma attached to mental health. She was a normal teenager up until, bang, this point. People just really need to know that it can happen to anybody.”

Wood will be lacing up his running shoes to run what he calls the Taylor Wood memorial run for mental health during Ottawa Race Weekend. He is accepting e-transfer or Paypal donations through his email address at [email protected]

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