Right around the time he decided to stop playing soccer, Lopez started hanging out with the “wrong crowd.” Further complicating things, he found out he would be transferring high schools, and a feeling of isolation set in.
“There was a lot of bullying, a lot of hazing that went unchecked,” he recalls. “It was one of those moments where I felt super lonely.”
One day, during math class, the school’s fire alarm went off. According to Lopez, his classmates used fire drills as a way to get outside and meet up with their friends in other classes. But Lopez didn’t have that privilege.
“I remember walking out and I just felt so alone,” Lopez says. “And I looked around and I saw so many people surrounded by at least, like, a hundred people. I just felt like I didn't belong.”
“And that was the day that I told myself that was gonna end my life.”
Lopez said the thought “terrified” him because he didn’t want to die. “I just wanted the pain to end,” he explains.
The same day of the fire drill, Lopez says he had a “what if” thought: What happens if I talk to somebody about what's going on in my head? Lopez thought about what some of his uncles taught him, that he shouldn’t be talking about his feelings. “Like, am I really going to be disowned by the men in my family?” he remembers thinking. “Am I really going to lose my manliness?”
He told himself he had two options: go speak with a professional, or go home and—as he describes it—“it’s lights out.” He decided to go speak with a counselor.
“When I was in that counselor's room, I spilled everything out,” Lopez says. “And I came home and my mom was all crying and she was telling me like, ‘Why didn't you tell me this?’”
But Lopez says one of the biggest surprises was his father’s reaction. “He was one of the guys that was raising me to be this super macho tough guy,” Lopez says. “And seeing him cry and seeing him...open up to me about all these things really gave me hope about recovery.”
A key part of that recovery process was running. “No joke. That is what kept me alive,” Lopez says. “And that slowly started to be my reason to be happy and to be alive. As much as I love running, the people that I met on the cross country team and the track team, they were my lifeline.”
Lopez is now the youth engagement coordinator for Eagle Valley Behavioral Health and a mentor with My Future Pathways, an organization that mentors mostly young men who are first generation Americans and who may face challenges in graduating high school. Lopez, who moved from Mexico to the United States with his family when he was five, can relate to these young men. He says the kids don’t understand the concept of running for fun, but he maintains that if it’s done right, running is addictive.
“We talk about resiliency, responsibility, communication skills,” Lopez says. “And they open up themselves.”
Lopez also spoke of the lack of Spanish-speaking services in his community despite the large Latinx population in Eagle County. Nearly 30% of the county is Hispanic or Latino, according to the latest census data. Part of the work Lopez does with Eagle Valley Behavioral Health is to help remedy that lack of representation and access. The organization is working to provide more services to the Hispanic/Latinx community and Lopez says he shares his story to help reduce the cultural stigma around mental health.
Lopez says the “macho mentality”--something he struggled with himself--is what prevents a lot of young men from opening up about the struggles in their life. “When it comes to your mental health, I feel like there's no space for that [mentality], especially when things are getting really rough,” Lopez says.
Lopez has learned that he is good at “getting the best out of kids who don’t think they’re the best.” He says he’s so passionate about mentoring young men that he’d do it for free if he had to.
“Whenever they say thank you, or whenever they say I love you, or whenever they say you're like a big brother to me,” Lopez explains, “that's what drives me to keep pushing.”