"[My father's death] was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my entire life," Devon Lévesque, who hopes to raise $200,000 to help veterans, tells PEOPLE

By Jason Duaine Hahn
October 29, 2020 05:15 PM
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Credit: Courtesy Devon Lévesque

Devon Lévesque will be "running" the New York City marathon this weekend in quite a unique way.

Lévesque, a 28-year-old wellness and fitness expert from New Jersey, will traverse the entire length of the 26.2-mile marathon on all fours — that's right, on his hands and legs — starting on Friday and ending Saturday. The feat is meant to raise awareness and honor his late father, who died of suicide when Lévesque was just a teenager.

“I was a 16-year-old kid and he was my best friend," he tells PEOPLE. "It was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my entire life. It was hard to watch because he was a happy-go-lucky person. I haven’t been able to cope with it until about 12 months ago and that is what is driving me to bring awareness to mental health and suicide prevention."

Lévesque — who has never completed a marathon before — hopes to raise $200,000 through his "bear crawl" marathon, which will help fund 66 veterans through FitOps, a foundation that helps veterans use their fitness and leadership skills to become personal trainers. The group was founded by Matt Hesse, who is also a veteran, in 2016.

"One-hundred percent of the funds raised will go towards the FitOps Foundation," Lévesque says. "They're dedicated to supporting and empowering veterans for re-acclimation [and] to raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention."

Devon Lévesque
| Credit: Courtesy Devon Lévesque

"I wanted to dedicate it to a cause that hits home for me," he adds.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 6,139 American veterans died of suicide in 2017. This rate has exceeded 6,000 every year since 2008.

As of Thursday, Lévesque says he has raised over $100,000, which will support 33 veterans in the FitOps program. (Donations can be submitted here.)

Over the last 12 months, the New Jersey resident, has gone through an intensive training schedule that consisted of bear crawling sessions and numerous doctor visits.

"I have been putting my body in an uncomfortable state for a long period of time so it adjusts to where I eventually become comfortable," he says of his preparation for this weekend. "Just like people running a marathon for the first time, you have to put your body through uncomfortable states to familiarize it. I have had to do the same with bear crawling."

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In addition to supporting veterans and raising awareness around suicide prevention, Lévesque hopes to inspire others to go after their goals.

"I want to show people the impossible is possible and complete something that has never been done before," he says. "Things that seem impossible can become possible if you put your mind to it."

Viewers can also watch a stream of the crawl from his Instagram page.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.