The Wounded Warriors are ready to run.

The Wounded Warriors BC – Vancouver Island run gets going Sunday in Port Hardy.

The eight-day, 600 km journey includes stops in Campbell River and Comox Valley.

It’s designed to raise funds and awareness for mental health supports for military members and first responders.

Director Jaqueline Zweng said the fundraising goal is $250,000, which she admits is ambitious.

“Last year we raised $125,000 and we decided this year… really it’s about the impact. We want to be able to do as much as possible. (I’m) not sure if we’ll get there but we are actually already at $85,000.”

The City of Campbell River threw its support behind the run last month, by donating $2,500 to the cause.

Zweng said the run has grown exponentially from its humble beginnings. 

It started seven years ago with four runners.

“They wanted to do something,” Zweng said. “At the time there had been a rash of suicides that had happened. They were service people and they decided we have to do something. It quickly became apparent how much the communities absorbed their intentions and energy towards discussing mental health and helping our veterans, first responders, and their families.”

Its fundraising totals have since more than doubled, which Zweng said speaks to the need.

“The number of people out there are coming forward more, (and they’re) being greatly helped by the programs that Wounded Warriors puts on,” she said.

Wounded Warriors Canada offers programs designed for veterans, first responders and their families, and 100 per cent of the funds donated from Vancouver Island stay on the island.

“Any of our veterans and first responders can take the programs and many of them happen in Sooke,” Zweng said. “It’s all covered – none of it is charged to anybody else. So those funds go towards the innovative programs that Wounded Warriors puts on.”

The Warriors begin their run from Port Hardy’s Carrot Bay Park at 7:30am Sunday.

After stops in Woss and Sayward, they’ll arrive in Campbell River on Tuesday and the Comox Valley on Wednesday.

The run continues down island, winding up in Victoria on Sunday, March 1.

Click here for a  full breakdown of the schedule.

Map shows the route of this year’s Wounded Warriors Run on Vancouver Island. (Supplied by Wounded Warriors BC)

Zweng said you’re more than welcome to welcome the runners when they arrive in your community.

“This is definitely about awareness and normalizing the conversation around mental health, as well,” she said. “We just want everybody to be a part of it and know that our message is that we’re here, we’re doing something about it and nobody’s alone and we want to help.”

The runners are made up of veterans, first responders, and current serving military personnel.

“We do that intentionally to represent as many of those different groups as possible,” Zweng said. 

“But it also means that team (represents) professions that are trauma-exposed professions.”

To that end, Zweng said the run a journey both physically and emotionally for the team members.

“They know, they understand, they have colleagues that are maybe suffering, or maybe they’ve had an experience themselves, so when they see people come into those communities and the support, sometimes you can almost feel the relief in people’s eyes, to see people talking about this. So it’s very emotional for the team but we also want to stand up and be strong and show that it’s okay, as well, to be able to talk about it.”

She added that it’s all about awareness about post traumatic stress disorder and mental wellness: “It’s definitely an individual journey for each person but really our goal is collectively to bring as many people into the conversation as possible.”