This 2021 series was commissioned by Building Hope Summit County in an effort to promote mental health, reduce stigma and improve access to care for everyone in Summit County.
The grand negotiator: Mike Dudick’s journey to take back control from alcohol
By all accounts, Mike Dudick is an excellent negotiator. He’s a successful marketer, manager and developer, a generous philanthropist, active community leader, and CEO and co-owner of Breckenridge Grand Vacations, the largest year-round employer in Summit County outside of the ski areas.
But when it came to alcohol, Mike’s skills failed him.
Now two years sober and intensely grateful for the changes it has brought to his life, the 55-year-old is sharing his recovery journey. Mike is articulate about his relationship with alcohol and passionate about helping others who’ve also lost their ability to negotiate with the substance.
Order, disorder, reorder: Haley Littleton’s journey through anxiety and identity
Anxiety has nipped at the heels of Haley Littleton her whole life.
She describes it “as a low hum” in the back of her head: “You’re not doing enough. You’re not good enough. You need to be better. You need to work harder.”
Haley, who was raised as an evangelical Christian, said her religion informed her ideas of success.
“Growing up in an evangelical culture, I thought religion was the pursuit of perfection,” she said. “I internalized that. My personality was shaped by earning validation and being the best student, the best Christian, the best captain of the basketball team and always trying to fit more and more in.”
But success only intensified the pressure she’d put on herself.
Keeping hope alive: Jared Dennis’ journey from loss to recovery
Jared Dennis — physically chiseled, emotionally steady and intensely forthright — believes all things happen for a reason.
Jared shared the rocky details of his life over the past four years, including a drunk on duty charge, intense public criticism and the loss of his job, kids and house.
His story is often dark and complex, but to his credit, he lays it bare.
A former sergeant with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Jared said he had long been trying to amicably separate from his first wife, whom he had married in 2003 and had four children with.
On July 27, 2016, he “got firm” and asked for a divorce. The next day, he faced domestic violence charges and later lost his job.
“I felt like I’d lost pretty much everything,” he said.
High school and struggle: Breanna Roach’s bumpy path to mental health wellness
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone more poised for success than 18-year-old Breanna Roach.
The 2020 Summit High School honors graduate sat down in early June to talk about her emotional journey through mental health struggles and self-harm.
“I think high school is a hard time for a lot of students, and a lot of us simply struggle through mental health challenges,” she said. “For many of us, people see happiness defined as success in academics, sports, friendships, extracurricular achievement, but happiness isn’t always what we feel inside.”
Breanna identifies and appreciates the process of darkness yielding to light, of being patient and present to feel heaviness lift, of making sense of turmoil.
Life is good for her these days. And she’s learned that it’s going to take struggle, strength, courage and hope for those good days to continue.
From healing to healer: The mental health journey of Ashley Hughes
Almost everyone has experienced mental health issues in their lives, and Ashley Hughes is no exception.
Depression and suicidal ideation, both symptoms of her post-traumatic stress diagnosis, once cast a shadow over her life, but after years of struggling to cope, she discovered a unique solution to help her find the light: yoga.
In her journey to heal herself, she found that yoga could serve as a tool to help others, and she’s since dedicated herself to spreading the practice’s positive effects.
“It took me a long time to admit that there was a problem,” Ashley said. “My doctors along the way told me that I was lucky to have yoga in my background because what happens with trauma is that the mind and body disconnect.”
Today, Ashley is helping community members mend their own disconnections through her yoga class in studios across Summit County. The hourlong class features Ashley’s personal wisdom and understanding of science, along with exercises centered on movement, breathing, stillness and focus.
Overcoming a suicide tragedy: Otto Reyna’s quest to help the Latino community start talking
Otto Reyna thinks people need to talk to one another more about the way they’re feeling but admits that’s a big ask for people of his Latin culture.
“In my culture, the subject of mental health, and especially suicide, is taboo,” he said. “But poor mental health is happening so much more with the pandemic. We have to start talking about it more so people can get help. It’s not easy to go through this.”
Otto’s own mental health journey began with the August suicide of a tenant in an upstairs bedroom of the home Otto was renting in Frisco.
The grisly scene Otto discovered will be forever etched in his mind, and it started a cascade of haunting questions: What drove a nice, quiet, young man to such desperate measures? Could Otto have done anything to prevent it? Why did this happen under his roof? Why couldn’t Otto get this man to talk about his struggles?
While most of the answers to these questions will remain a mystery, the sad and tragic suicide set Otto on a mission to advocate for “sharing how we’re feeling to reduce the taboo around talk of mental health.”
Life’s beauty and hope: Nancy Kerry’s lessons on suicide
Nancy Kerry sees beauty in things big and small — from the boundless love she feels for her newly adopted Great Pyrenees, Bella, to the delicate patterns in the snow carved by the wind’s endless breath.
“Just look at how beautiful this all is,” Nancy said, lifting her arms from the earth to the sky, on a hike up Miners Creek Road in Frisco, where she has been the town manager for two years.
A writer, musician, crafter and “creative type,” Nancy has trained her eye to see beauty that’s hidden to many. She also has trained her heart to feel hope, a feeling that is often elusive for those who have lost a child to suicide.
In 2013, Nancy sat at the San Diego hospital bedside of her beloved 34-year-old son, Dustin, who was surrounded by his wife, sister and many best friends and family members. His self-inflicted gunshot wound would take him from all of them that day but not before six men were gifted life from Dustin’s donated organs.
“That was the hope I needed to bring goodness to the darkest moment of my life,” Nancy said.
Continued below is the Faces of Hope series from 2017.
Frisco mother still coming to terms with her son’s 2006 suicide
A photo album records the arc of the life of Betty Claybrook’s oldest child, Josh. It opens with a birth certificate from St. Joseph’s Hospital on which his tiny, delicate footprints are stamped. He was born at 8:40 in the morning on May 21,1979. HSubsequent pages in the album reveal familiar moments in the lives of mountain kids living in a then-blue collar Summit County: Josh in snow pants as a toddler, with his baby sister Jamie by his side. Josh skiing off small cliffs, riding snowmobiles and riding mountain bikes on family camping trips to Moab. Later, there are pictures of Josh with his own sons Elijah and Peyton, and Josh hoisting his niece Cynthia into the air when she was a toddler. In the photos, everyone is youthful and often smiling.
Toward the end of the album are a handful of photos from Blackfoot, Idaho. That’s where Josh Claybrook took his life at age 27 on a summer day in June 2006.
After bipolar diagnosis, Summit County woman rebuilds a life
Marilyn Hogan is a dynamic, beautiful, and accomplished professional. She’s been married to her husband for 32 years and has three talented, successful children, two of whom spent much of their childhood ski racing in Summit County.
Few know that Marilyn’s long trajectory of success came on the heels of deep struggle. Prior to moving to Summit County in 1982, she had been a stay-at-home mom living in Woodland Park with her first husband and two sons. After a period in her early 20s of significant family stress that followed the birth of her second son, she experienced a manic episode. She was hospitalized for three days, given a diagnosis of manic depression and medications, and sent home. Shortly after, her then husband left the state with her two children, leaving Marilyn without any money and a broken down Jeep.
A brother’s death put Summit County woman on to a path to enlightenment
Emily Steingart appears to be living an idyllic mountain-town life. In between juggling several side gigs in marketing and communications, she’s busy co-launching a new yoga retreat business called GOYO Adventures. Last summer, she worked as a production assistant for an Aspen photoshoot for Fabletics, an active-wear clothing line founded by Kate Hudson. Her Instagram feed is a catalog of enviable adventures.
Among the long, happy Instagram feed, though, one photo stands out in stark contrast: a quiet image of eight balloons lifting into a dark blue sky at Massachusetts Skaket Beach.
Each year, on Emily’s beloved older brother Mike’s birthday, her family reunites at a Cape Cod beach and releases balloons in the air. Mike died 11 years ago, on Dec. 11, 2005, as the result of an accidental overdose.
Climbing out of the darkness
In the summer of 2016, Breckenridge local and climber Sam Higby completed the demanding and spectacular Evolution Traverse. A high alpine, continuous ridge traverse that links numerous peaks along the Evolution Basin in the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada, the route requires continuous mixed fourth class scrambling and fifth class climbing across nearly 9 miles of technical terrain, much of it with significant exposure at 13,000 feet.
“It was the next day, in a coffee shop, still too tired and sore to eat or sit on a toilet, that I had the thought, ‘I am enough,’” he says. “I’d never had that thought in my life. I still don’t know what that means entirely.”
Why would it take until age 36 for a thoughtful, intelligent and talented climber, craftsman and skier to have his first powerful epiphany about his own self worth? As a child, Sam was the victim of abuse in a deeply religious household. Like so many children who experience such devastating early trauma, it left painful scars and a damaged sense of identity.
Breckenridge couple learns to live with pain of son’s suicide
For Cary and Marsha Cooper, healing from the loss of their son, Glenn, has meant focusing on the exuberant and vital life he lived instead of the way in which he died at age 44. Each year, on the anniversary of his suicide, they walk to a beloved spot on the Sallie Barber trail. It’s a place they’ve hiked to countless times during their 20 years in Breckenridge, sometimes with him by their side. They feel his spirit here, and they spend time reflecting on the generous life he lived and the countless moments of joy they shared. They think about how much they loved him, and how much they miss him. And then, they try to move on.