A 3,100 km walk ended in a flood of both tears and raindrops at the Chilliwack Airport on Friday afternoon.
The Long Way Home team arrived here after a three-month journey from Nipawin, SK. All along the way, they met with veterans, firefighters, paramedics and police officers. And all along the way they heard stories of people struggling with post traumatic stress disorder.
Some of those stories end tragically, and as veteran Kate MacEachern spoke to the crowd gathered in the pouring rain she listed off the names of friends who have been lost to PTSD. She choked back tears, standing on stage in the boots that carried her across the country, over a series of walks over many summers.
“To the firefighters, the paramedics, the police officers, the soldiers, the human beings who have lost the battle. To the ones we have lost… you have not gone in vain, I will continue to fight for you,” she said.
“And for the many warriors before you, no matter the cloth you wear, we are all united in the fabric of humanity. To the ones who continue to fight, to my sisters and brothers, I may be finished walking but I will never quit. To the ones at the start of the journey, one step farther than yesterday is all you have to do.”
PTSD symptoms can include depression, and suicide.
“Reach out and lean on someone,” MacEachern said. “The strongest structures in the world have support. To the fighters, the fallen and the future, this moment of silence is for you.”
MacEachern also told the crowd about her young son, waiting for her back at home. Her biggest supporter, Tyler.
More than 100 people showed up to greet MacEachern and her Long Way Home team. A group of firefighters met up with her along the route into Chilliwack and marched alongside them, down Broadway and Airport. At the entrance to the airport, they were greeted by veterans, paramedics, RCMP members, and many other well wishers. Despite the heavy downpour, the welcoming ceremony carried on for over an hour.
It marked the end of the road for MacEachern, but she said they opened up conversations about PTSD all across the country and they hope those discussions continue.
A musical tribute was played for the group, performed by local musician Rick Genge, and the event was organized by Paula DeWit of the Chilliwack Symphony Orchestra. MLAs John Martin and Laurie Throness barbecued burgers for the crowd, and Mayor Sharon Gaetz welcomed them on behalf of the city.
The members of the group are now all working their way home, to different cities across the country. They had been keeping touch with more than 8,000 followers on Facebook along the way, updating photos and news from the road every day.
Over the weekend, MacEachern noted that her knee is hurting, and that it “kinda feels like someone beat the heck out of us.”
“Feeling kinda proud that this old carcass made it to the finish with only one wrecked part,” she wrote.
The Long Way Home was intended to raise money and awareness for PTSD suffering among veterans. Over the years it’s grown to include other groups heavily impacted by PTSD. Each year, MacEachern chooses organizations that help people with PTSD, and divides the money she raises between them. This year, the chosen groups were Paws Fur Thought, The NASH Project, and Alpha K9.
The ending of The Long Way Home was originally going to dovetail with the Wounded Warrior Weekend in Chilliwack, this upcoming weekend. However, the foundation in charge of the weekend cancelled the event citing a lack of funds.
To learn more about Kate MacEachern, visit www.thelongwayhome.ca.