Shear for Light

Man plans alpaca shearing challenge in Australia for suicide awareness
By: 
Justin Post — Enterprise Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 5, 2019
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Enterprise photo by Nate Howard

Pete Connelly, the owner of Shorn, a natural fiber store in Livingston, is photographed in his downtown shop on Thursday.

A Livingston man is traveling to Australia this week to participate in a 24-hour alpaca shearing challenge aimed at raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention.

On Friday, Pete Connelly, owner of Shorn in Livingston, is traveling Down Under to tackle the Shear for Light challenge Nov. 22 to 23, along with his friend and fellow shearer Nigel Wood, of New Zealand.

The duo hopes to break a record or two and raise money to support charities in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Connelly is shearing to raise money for the Montana Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or AFSP. The Shear for Light challenge kicks off on the afternoon of Nov. 22 and continues into the afternoon of Nov. 23, which is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.

For Connelly, the trip is personal. Connelly lost his wife, Angie, to suicide in January. He said the Livingston community rallied around him and his two children, ages 9 and 16, after Angie’s death. Connelly hopes to raise $10,000 for AFSP, and the organization’s efforts to organize a suicide prevention walk in Livingston next spring.

“Our community rallied and friends from all over the country came to Livingston to help support our broken hearts and we began a new journey,” Connelly said. “Suicide is the most horrible thing for everyone involved, as the person that dies has lost all hope and faith and light, and those of us left struggle to grasp with such hopelessness and loss.”

That “light” Connelly speaks of is part of the inspiration for the name of the challenge: Shear for Light.

“In order to get through such a storm we need a community, we need love and light,” Connelly said. “It is only when the light is obscured by hopelessness that those lost in the sea reach into the void and leave us forever. My mission is to keep the light on no matter the storm because all storms pass.”

After his wife’s death, Connelly said he struggled to regain balance in his life. He needed a goal, something to strive for. Connelly said he needed a future for himself and his two daughters.

Friends from Australia contacted him and asked if he would be interested in a 24-hour shearing event.

“I said yes, of course, now more than ever,” Connelly said.

Connelly, who grew up in Santa Fe, started shearing in 2005 and has since made numerous trips overseas to shear and participate in other shearing events. This week’s trip will be his fifth trip to Australia, and he’s previously traveled there to judge a shearing competition.

He plans to spend 24 days working at an alpaca farm during this trip, and during that time he and Nigel Wood will set aside a weekend specifically for the Shear for Light challenge.

Connelly said he’s unaware of anyone, anywhere, previously shearing alpacas for 24 straight hours.

That fact is what makes the Shear for Light challenge so unique, said Katie Levine, the Rocky Mountain area director for AFSP.

“We’re always trying to find new ways to reach different populations and this is a way he can really reach and relate to those people who are in our more rural and agricultural areas,” Levine said. “It’s something that the people can relate to and they understand, and I think it’s a model that anybody can find ways to bring attention to suicide prevention to do it by what they’re most passionate about.”

Levine said money raised during the Shear for Light challenge as well as this spring’s walk in Livingston will help the nonprofit pay for suicide prevention education, programs in schools and universities, research, and resources for loss survivors and advocacy efforts, among other programs.

She said a date is not yet set for the spring walk in Livingston, but that the community will be invited to attend the event with additional details forthcoming.

Montana suicides rank highest per capita in the United States and is the sixth leading cause of death in Montana, Levine said. Park County is among the highest suicide rate in the state, she said.

There is not one single factor that is believed to contribute to the state’s high rates, but Levine said real conversations about the issue must happen to help prevent suicide.

“It is having real conversations with people; it’s checking in,” she said. “If you fear that someone is at risk, it’s asking very plainly, asking that person if they’re suicidal, if they’re thinking of killing themselves because what we’ve found is asking that direct question is harder to ... skirt ... than if you ask, ‘Are you OK?’”

Connelly said continuing the conversation about preventing suicide in Livingston and beyond is his ultimate motivation for participating in Shear for Light as well as the upcoming Livingston walk. He also stressed the importance of removing the stigma associated with talking about suicide and mental health issues.

He sees the final hours and minutes before someone takes his or her own life as a dark time, a period that people can survive if they have the opportunity and hope for another day.

“If you can make it through, there’s always something on the other side,” Connelly said.

To learn more about the Shear for Light challenge or for information about how to make a donation in support of Connelly during the event, visit www.shearforlight.com.