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ND airman promotes suicide awareness foundation

- Associated Press - Sunday, March 2, 2014

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - Oftentimes, confronting the monster under the bed only to discover that it's not such a monster after all is the best approach. The same could also possibly be said about confronting the issue most people don't want to talk about - suicide, specifically suicide prevention and awareness.

This is what Joshua Hull, a staff sergeant with the U.S. Air Force, would like for people to do.

Currently serving at Minot Air Force Base, Hull is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Minot AFB Honor Guard, which provides military funeral honors across the state of North Dakota.

Hull wants to spread suicide prevention and awareness, let everyone know they matter and that suicide destroys people and should not be an option. The way in which Hull is doing such a thing is through Andy Hull's Sunshine Foundation, a nonprofit organization created in memory of his younger brother, Andrew, who took his own life in 2012.

On Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, Andy Hull, 16, left school at lunchtime, walked home, listened to some music in his bedroom and then shot himself with a family gun. He was the quintessential teenager, Joshua Hull said, with girlfriends, playing baseball and plans of playing professional baseball. "He had a great future," he added.

However, Andy also struggled with typical challenges and pressures of adolescence, such as lost love, slipping grades and mean-spirited social media. Nothing seemed to indicate suicide, though.

One thing Hull noted was his brother was taking medication for acne and one of the side effects of the medication is suicide and depression. There were also other signs, though not discovered until after, like Andy having difficulty concentrating, him talking with friends about suicide and posting cryptic messages on social media.

"It was the worst day of my life," Hull told the Minot Daily News (http://bit.ly/Mu93q0). "I feel horrible, but I can't imagine being my mom and dad. This blindsided us."

Hull's parents established the Andy Hull's Sunshine Foundation to encourage and promote suicide awareness and prevention with a "You Matter" approach. The foundation has granted scholarships, purchased baseball equipment for Phoenix College in Arizona and sponsored two high school students to participate in an out-of-state baseball tournament. It also is developing a "You Matter" program within the local school district.

His nickname "Sunshine" is a testament to his life and the way he lived, with his perpetual and engaging zest for life that was contagious. Andy spread his enthusiasm to every person he came in contact with.

People typically don't want to talk about suicide and want to retreat, Hull said, but his parents have done the exact opposite. His mother, LeAnn Hull, has written magazine articles, given speeches and appeared in interviews with local TV stations in Phoenix. One of her speeches, delivered during a student assembly at her son's high school, is available on YouTube. She has resolved to reach as many teens as possible with the simple message, "You Matter."

"We want to reinforce that suicide isn't an option," Hull said. He and his family would like to expand the foundation to Minot and everywhere. "Suicide is a huge problem everywhere," he said. "To me, this foundation is a representation of who Andrew was someone who loved live, never gave up and always went that extra mile."

On Sept. 21, 2014, Hull will be representing the Andy Hull's Sunshine Foundation at Ironman in Lake Tahoe, California. The triathlon, a timed event, includes swimming 2.4 miles, a 112-mile bicycle road race and ending with a 26.2 mile run. Participants have 17 hours to complete the triathlon and the average finish time is 14 hours.

"I'd always run marathons and half-marathons and I had the idea to do the Ironman," Hull said. Hull's goal in supporting his brother's foundation is to raise $15,000 through donations and sponsorships leading up to the race in September.

Already, Hull has spent numerous hours training for the Ironman race. He didn't even own a bicycle before starting to train, but Val's Cyclery, as well as Mile One Running Shop, have sponsored his endeavor. Hull trains 15 to 20 hours each week and has raised more than $1,000 so far.

"I can't fathom crossing the finish line, but I know I will," Hull said. "It's the ultimate endurance race. And if people are going to donate money, I feel like I owe it to them to train and not do anything to harm myself." With people's support, he hopes to promote suicide awareness and prevention.

People interested in supporting Hull's cause can visit the foundation's website at (www.andyssunshine.com).

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Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com

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