Recently, two local news stations aired a segment about the Airborne Tri Team 5K in Sayville on 7/23/16 and their Carry the Fallen campaign with the goal of reducing veteran suicide and assisting military families.
Steve’s image and some interviews with me were part of the reports. People have asked, if not wondered, whether Steve and I were veterans. Although we both have veterans from several wars in our families, neither of us have ever served. My journey to the connection I have with the plight of our veterans began when I was searching for a proceeds beneficiary of Slipped Away, the memoir I wrote about Steve. As I wrote in the book introduction, I had dropped off some promotional bookmarks for the memoir at my chiropractor’s office. I was directed to place them on a counter next to another stack of promotional cards that caught my eye. It was for Vet Stock, an event presented by Project9line to honor all veterans. I wanted to find out more about this organization as Steve and I both sympathized with the struggles of our country’s returning veterans. Project9line has a unique approach to assist returning veterans who may be suffering from PTSD and depression; they create multiple venues for the veterans to showcase their talent and share their experience through the arts. I knew immediately, since their approach in helping veterans was so unique and I felt Steve would have approved, that Project9line would be designated as the proceeds beneficiary of Slipped Away.
It is through Project9line, I met Ron Hurtado, founder of Airborne Tri Team (ATT). ATT’s mission is to promote teamwork and endurance sports to help veterans “… better their life style, change their attitude towards life and give them a purpose”. Patrick, the founder of Project9line, thought that Ron and I would have a good connection through triathlon. Steve (an 18 time Ironman triathlete) helped lay the foundation for triathlon in Long Island and Ron’s team is training to complete their first Ironman next year. Ron shared with me that he looks up to Steve and he wishes he could have had the honor of meeting him. I firmly believe that Steve and Ron would have been kindred spirits. Ron is committed to keeping Steve’s legacy alive and has put Steve’s logo on the ATT team gear and always does an extra push-up to honor Steve whenever his team does the 22 push-us to educate people about the staggering number of veterans lost per day to suicide.
Suicide is much more prevalent than one might think, both in the civilian and veteran’s communities. According to http://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/ on average, there are about 117 suicides per day in the US and for every completed suicide, there are 25 attempts. The VA estimated in 2012 that 22 veterans die each day by suicide, however, since four states with large veteran populations were not included in the calculations, the numbers could be higher. http://www.militarytimes.com/story/veterans/2016/02/04/va-veterans-suicide-must-top-priority/79821504/
Steve and the veterans that take their own lives, although their paths to suicide were different, they do have some important things in common. They were in unspeakable pain, suffered tremendous mental anguish and feared living more than they feared dying. There is the loss of a precious life and the loved ones left behind with so many unanswered questions, wondering if they could have done something different.
So, although Steve and I were not veterans, my intent is to continue to raise awareness about suicide so that there can be open conversations about it. How can anything change unless we talk about it freely?. In addition, by supporting the missions of Project9line and ATT in whatever way I can, hopefully, together, we can help save one veteran at a time.