Run for Joy: 3rd Annual 5K for Mental Health Awareness

by Carrie Swain

During the summer of 2020 the family, friends, and classmates of Katelyn Joy Beardsley suffered a great loss. Katelyn tragically died by suicide on June 11, 2020. Katelyn was a vibrant young woman who brought immense joy to everyone who knew her. She had a strong love for God and for people. She was unapologetically authentic and could sit with people in their deepest sadness or laugh with them in their highest joys. Katelyn actively counseled and encouraged many others in the midst of their depression, and we know lives were preserved because of her efforts. Katelyn also loved running, which was her favorite way to combat her own depression and anxiety.  In the summer of 2018, Katelyn enrolled in the Nurse Anesthesia program at Wake Forest University School of Medicine to fulfill her life-long dream of becoming a CRNA.  Unfortunately, that dream was never realized. We will never know all the things that led to this tragic end to such a beautiful life.  Because Katelyn was high functioning and upbeat, no one saw this coming.  Data shows that many others are struggling just like Katelyn. 

Mental health issues and suicide are becoming increasingly common among health care trainees and providers. Training programs are usually very rigorous, caring for patients is stressful, and those who care for others often feel that they cannot or should not admit that they need care themselves.  Long before the pandemic, as many as 45-55% of healthcare workers suffered from burnout (Dzau, Kirch, Nasca 2020). 93% of healthcare workers were experiencing stress between June and September 2020, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed (Mental Health Study, 2020). Unfortunately, there is often a stigma associated with mental illness, and trainees may feel that admitting that they struggle could damage their careers.

The NCANA Run for Joy 5K was created to bring awareness to the importance of mental health advocacy, wellness among healthcare trainees, and to reduce the stigma of seeking help. It is a 5K that was created to honor Katelyn’s memory and bring runners and walkers together to support an important cause. 

Proceeds from the annual race help finance initiatives that enhance mental wellness and provide support for those needing mental health services. Donations and race proceeds are managed by Run for Joy, Inc., a charitable organization established for this purpose. 

It is crucial to combat the stigma associated with treatable health issues for medical learners, especially after a global pandemic. We want to encourage medical learners to seek help when needed and to dispel the idea of self-sufficiency even as they prepare for their careers. There has never been a more important time for such a change than now.

1st Annual Run for Joy Recap

The first annual Run for Joy (RFJ) 5k was held on October 16, 2021. RFJ brought over 500 runners together to create the 4th largest 5k race to be held in the city of Winston-Salem, NC. The race was held at the Salem Creek Greenway and was the largest 5k to ever be held there. Over 200 additional runners, representing 27 states, participated virtually. Several nurse anesthesia programs across the country showed their support for the cause by either participating in the event in-person or virtually or hosting their own walk in memory of Katelyn. RFJ 2021 had 20 sponsors, as well as many donors and volunteers who contributed to the event’s success; all raised funds went directly to the cause of supporting programming to increase awareness of mental health issues and promote mental wellness and advocacy among medical trainees.

2nd Annual NCANA Run for Joy Recap

The second annual Run for Joy 5k (RFJ) was held on October 15, 2022, in Bailey Park/downtown Winston-Salem, NC. The event brought almost 600 runners together both in-person and virtually. We were honored to have Carrie Tollefson, former Olympian and ESPN analyst and commentator, participate. Runners represented over 20 states and 3 countries. Many event sponsors, volunteers, and the race planning committee contributed to the event’s success! We would like to thank our title sponsor, North Carolina Association of Nurse Anesthetists (NCANA) for their continued support. 

Runners and walkers of all types are invited to join us virtually or in-person for the third annual Run for Joy 5k. The in-person event is set for October 21, 2023, and will begin at 9:00am at Jamison Park (285 Meadowlark Drive, Winston-Salem, NC). 

The non-profit and event planning team for Run for Joy, Inc. can be reached at

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