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Tyler Vanderheiden Memorial Run donation has $40K impact for Nebraska trails

Four people hold an oversize check standing in front of a waterfall in a wooden area in Eastern Nebraska.
From left, Shannon Vanderheiden, Tyler Vanderheiden’s mom and executive director of West Central District Health Department; Roger Kuhn, assistant director of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission; Jim Swenson, Game and Parks deputy director; and Trudy Merritt, Platte River Fitness Series director, pose with a check to the Nebraska Game and Parks Foundation¬. The funds were raised during the Tyler Vanderheiden Memorial Run, an annual race aimed at raising awareness and understanding of mental health. Jeff Kurrus, Nebraskaland Magazine, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

The Tyler Vanderheiden Memorial Run, an annual race aimed at raising awareness and understanding of mental health, raised more than $8,000 for Nebraska Game and Parks state park trails.

The donation triggers access to up to $32,000 in matching federal Recreation Trails Program funds.

Event organizers, Shannon and Tim Vanderheiden, Tyler’s parents, and Trudy Merritt of Platte River Fitness Series, presented a check to Game and Parks on June 22 at Platte River State Park.

“Because of their generous donation, Game and Parks is able to take full advantage of Recreational Trails Program funds,” said Jeff Fields, Parks Division Administrator. “The Tyler Vanderheiden Memorial Run will effectively have a $40,000 impact on our trail improvement project at Platte River State Park.”

The memorial funds are being used to support the construction and upgrade of the Platte River State Park trail that leads to Stone Creek Falls. The $1 million in improvements are aimed at making the trail Americans with Disabilities Act accessible.

Runners from every state in the nation — and one person in London and another in Puerto Rico — participated either virtually or in-person in the May 14 race, which brought together hundreds of people united around raising mental health awareness. Participants used the hashtags #PreventSuicide and #Run4TJV when they shared their race stories, memories of Tyler and their connection to the outdoors.

“The generosity of the Vanderheiden family in sharing their deeply personal story and the belief we share with the Nebraska Game and Parks Foundation that nature, open space and trails are essential to a flourishing life created a meaning and a message that resonated across the nation,” Merritt said. “Runners from every state, from overseas and across Nebraska came together with one voice to tell those who struggle and those who love someone who struggles: ‘You are not alone.’

“This race lives as a reminder that Tyler Vanderheiden’s spirit will continue to move amongst us and improve the lives of others.”

For Shannon Vanderheiden, the annual run was intended to be a space for healing and support for those who struggle with mental health or know someone who has, but in just two years, it’s turned into much more.

“The many texts and messages we received from across our nation before and after Ty’s memorial run brought healing, joy and peace to my heart,” she said. “Our intention of Ty’s race was to be a gift of healing to others; I was not expecting to receive 100-fold back the same gift I was trying to give.

“I am so grateful for the kindness and love others shared through Ty’s memorial run and look forward to sharing this space with all for many years to come.”

The run is organized by the Platte River Fitness Series, run by Merritt, with support by West Central District Health Department, where Vanderheiden serves as executive director.

Proceeds from the annual race will continue to be donated to the Nebraska Game and Parks Foundation for the creation, maintenance or upgrade of trails at the 76 state park areas. To learn more about this year’s trail project, visit OutdoorNebraska.org/MemorialRun.

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Additional photos

Option 1: Shannon Vanderheiden, Tyler Vanderheiden’s mom and executive director of West Central District Health Department, and Trudy Merritt, Platte River Fitness Series director, present a check to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for funds raised during the Tyler Vanderheiden Memorial Run. The annual race, aimed at raising awareness and understanding of mental health, raised more than $8,000 for Nebraska state park trails. Jeff Kurrus, Nebraskaland Magazine, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Option 2: Tim and Shannon Vanderheiden, Tyler Vanderheiden’s parents, and Trudy Merritt, Platte River Fitness Series director, present a check to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for funds raised during the Tyler Vanderheiden Memorial Run. The annual race, aimed at raising awareness and understanding of mental health, raised more than $8,000 for Nebraska state park trails. Jeff Kurrus, Nebraskaland Magazine, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

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