Marine hiking 22 miles daily to raise awareness of suicide

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) — U.S. Marine Shane Stephens, a Hall County native, is hiking nearly two dozen miles each day to raise awareness of suicides among veterans.

Each day Stephens is hiking 22 miles, a number representing the often-cited statistic of veteran suicides each day, The Times reported.

Stephens embarked Jan. 11 from Minnesott Beach in North Carolina and plans to end up in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He reached the half-way mark on Jan. 16, he said in a Facebook post.

“I felt led to do this. I felt that it was laid upon my heart, and I was not going to ignore that. So here I am, on the side of the road,” he told the Gainesville newspaper.

He said his mission was inspired by friends who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, who call in the middle of the night “suffering with their demons.”

“I can’t imagine what is going through their head, but all I know is I talk to them all night long. I try to do anything I can to keep them from putting a freaking pistol in their mouth,” he said.

“The (posttraumatic stress disorder) is real,” he added. “The suicide is real. Everything is real and true, and I just want them to know that I’m out here because I care.”

Since the start, Stephens’ feet swelled two sizes and lost skin on his pinky toes. Taking tips from a hiking buddy, he wrapped his toes in zebra-print kinesiology tape — the only pattern he could find.

“When I take my socks off, (my feet) look like zebra-print tape all over them and powder and blood,” Stephens said.

All from his cell phone, Stephens chronicles his hikes as other service members join his journey.

“Before I even got off of my phone, I’ve got 30 more notifications,” he said.

As he marches with his 30-pound pack for the final few days, Stephens said he expects a large group waiting for him near Jacksonville, North Carolina.

“I’ll probably get quite a few people with me over the next three days,” Stephens said. “And that’s great. That’s what this is all about.”

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