PTSD Century Hike
Veterans use long-distance walks to lift each other up –and bring attention to PTSD
By Chris Michlewicz; photo courtesy of Josh Emer
Play was stopped mid-game on a baseball diamond in Larkspur in August, and all of the players and spectators left the field. It wasn’t because of inclement weather; it was because a procession of wounded warriors was passing by.
The PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) Century Hike was some 30 miles from its destination: a veterans memorial in Colorado Springs. Although the people on the baseball field and in the stands were strangers, they stopped what they were doing to applaud and shake hands with the veterans, thanking them for their service and sacrifice.
Josh Emer, an Army specialist and combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, organized the 100-mile walk, which began in Westminster and took four days to complete. The veterans memorial was a fitting place to end the walk because it’s where Emer’s military service dog, Hero, is honored.
What started as a loosely-organized event with Emer and five of his Army buddies promptly ballooned with media coverage and word that the group was working its way south. In Daniels Park and Castle Pines, about 10 people joined the procession on bikes and on foot, and more than 30 participated at some point in the walk.
Emer’s intent was to bring attention to PTSD and suicide among veterans; the walk accomplished that and more. It brought together more veterans than expected and even raised $8,000 for the Semper Fi & America’s Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources and support to combat wounded, critically ill and catastrophically-injured members of the U.S. armed forces and their families.
Just over a year ago, Emer said, he struggled as many veterans do to get back to life as normal and was contemplating suicide. He sought help at a treatment center for two and a half months and came out with a renewed sense of purpose: to encourage his brethren to do as he had done and seek help.
“So many veterans don’t want to tell people they need help, don’t want to put their pride aside and admit they’re having those dark thoughts,” Emer said. “That was me for a time.”
The first PTSD Century Hike drew so much attention and forged so many new relationships among the veterans that Emer was pressed to schedule others. The next event is a 25-mile walk from Highlands Ranch to Castle Rock on November 14. Because of the support from the area, Emer said the walk will definitely pass through Castle Pines again.
Visit the PTSD Century Hike Facebook page to join or learn more.