A wounded war veteran has just set out to walk across the three most western provinces, in an effort to raise awareness surrounding mental health issues affecting soldiers. The route will cover 3,000 kilometres, beginning in Nipawin, SK, on May 1 and ending in Chilliwack on July 24, just days prior to the Wounded Warriors Weekend being held in this city.
Kate MacEachern is walking to raise awareness of post traumatic stress disorder, and to reduce the stigma around the all-too-common condition that affects countless veterans. She began her mission in 2012, following a conversation with a close relative.
Then, she was a corporal on medical leave due to a serious injury. And for a stretch of several days during that time, neglected to call her grandmother. When she remembered to call, the response she heard over line was: “I was starting to think you put on those army boots and walked across the world to save someone!”
That sparked an idea, and soon “The Long Way Home” was a reality and she was on a self-assigned mission to cross the country and raise awareness. The 2012 Long Way Home was 576 km from Gagetown, NB to her hometown of Antigonish, NS and took 19 days. The next year, after being medically released from the military, Kate walked 1876 km from Cape Breton, NS, to Ottawa, ON.
“When I got off the phone with my Nanny, something clicked,” MacEachern said. “The thoughts I had about desperately wanting to help others struggling with injuries, plus the comment about walking across the world in my army boots sparked something. I wondered; could she be onto something?”
MacEachern was a member of the mounted troop in the Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment when she suffered life-threatening injuries. She has had a long, arduous road to recovery and continues to struggle with PTSD.
MacEachern’s third and final walk began on May 1, in Nipawin, the city where the first Wounded Warriors Weekend was held. It will be her hardest and longest trek, traveling great distances over mountain passes.
All along the way, MacEachern and her team will be welcomed into Legion halls and Anavets Clubs, and met with supporters walking portions of the journey along the way. For those who can’t join her in person, there is an online map that shows her progress, and highlighted events along the way.
And keep in mind, this isn’t a leisurely walk. MacEachern will carry along a 45 lb. rucksack, as a physical reminder of the burden those with PTSD carry every day.
“Many don’t realize the emotion that goes into these marches,” she said. “Out on the road, there is a constant struggle to stay focused and not let emotion take over. Strong mind, strong body. It’s a lonely journey in many ways, physically and psychologically.”
Donations given to this year’s “The Long Way Home” will be divided among three service dog organizations (PAWS Fur Thought and The NASH Project and Alpha K9) and Wounded Warriors Weekend Foundation.
She begins the B.C. leg of her journey in Sparwood on June 16, traveling through Fernie, Cranbrook, Creston, Castlegar, Rock Creek, Kelowna, Merritt and Hope before stopping in Chilliwack.