Families may be driving long distances this summer to vacation at top travel destinations, but one FishHawk man left his car in the garage, laced up his combat boots and went on a 100-mile walk in May to raise awareness for veteran mental health issues.
Army veteran Clay Adams said he was spurred to action after reading a post on Facebook that suggested people walk or bike 100 miles to honor veterans who had lost their lives to suicide.
“May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I saw the post and told myself, ‘I can walk 100 miles in a month,’” he said.
The thought that the task might be physically challenging didn’t cross his mind at the time. “I still think I’m 20 and didn’t realize how taxing this would be,” he said.
Adams isn’t 20. He hadn’t worked out in more than two years, and between a full-time job, completing a master’s degree in counseling with a specialization in equine-assisted mental health and raising a family, he didn’t have a lot of free time.
The first night, he walked 3.1 miles. As he continued walking each night after his children had gone to bed, his feet became swollen and inflamed. He considered quitting, but realized he couldn’t because what had started out as his own personal goal had become so much more.
He had been posting his journey on Facebook, and not only were friends and family members commenting, but also perfect strangers.
“It became impossible to stop,” said Adams. “I had people invested in my experience and grateful to me for honoring the memory of their loved ones who died by suicide.”
Ohio resident Erica Warner was one of those invested followers. Her cousin, Michael Stangelo, who had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attempted to end the demons he carried from his overseas tour in the United States Marine Corp. He succumbed to his injuries on June 15, 2016.
“When I saw Clay’s post, I had to reach out and offer him encouragement,” said Warner. “He is helping to bring awareness to an issue dear to my heart and keeping my cousin’s memory alive.”
So, quitting wasn’t an option.
As he walked, he’d think about the men and women who lost battles with personal demons they never asked to fight. He considered the emotional toll six deployments to Afghanistan had on his own mental health.
On May 29, Adams completed the last 13 miles of his journey, and as he did, he realized the experience will be one he won’t soon forget.
“This has not only been an emotional experience but an educational one as well that I’ll draw from in many ways for a long time,” said Adams.
Veterans struggling with mental health issues can find resources to build networks of support, including community-based organizations, veterans service organizations, health care providers and other members of the community. The Veterans Administration (VA) has a variety of mental health resources, information and treatment options.
For more information about veteran mental health, visit https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicideprevention. Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a veteran in crisis, should call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential crisis intervention and support, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, at 1-800-273-8255.