Approximately 2,500 miles later, David Roth is feeling the heat. But his bloody feet haven’t been his biggest concern. And neither have his sore, achy bones.
Despite being distracted by unpredictable weather, rugged terrain and miles of what seem like endless highway ahead, Roth and his crew have never wavered from their mission.
Walking the Route for the Brave, Roth and fellow members of Helping Hands for Freedom, a nonprofit organization, plan to raise enough funds to build a retreat house for military personnel and families in need of a getaway. They also want to raise awareness and funds for military families and children dealing with death and deployment.
The effort has raised about a quarter of the $3.5 million-dollar goal so far, said Paul Gable, communications director for the Route for the Brave.
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Roth’s walk, which began on April 28 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, will conclude in San Francisco on Aug. 26. Roth, a 22-year veteran of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, ventured through Hancock County on his journey at the end of May.
And he’s already blown through nine pairs of shoes. He also had to poke another notch in his belt — the same belt that was almost too small at the start of the trek. It’s been a long road since Roth and walking companion Kevin Winton, a middle school math teacher at Beech Grove, began nearly three months ago.
In all, Roth and Winton — mixed with other crew members who have joined for portions along the way — will journey approximately 3,000 miles through 16 states. They’ve been on the road for more than 80 days so far.
However, that doesn’t compare to what some military families are going through, Roth told the Daily Reporter, the sound of cars and semis whizzing past his route along U.S. 40. in the background.
The miles he has logged in their honor have been life-changing, Roth said.
“I’ve been hurt and sick but you have to keep going,” said Roth, who has been eating more than 7,000 calories — mainly pasta — each day to keep up his strength. “This is nothing compared to the sacrifices they (veterans) gave.”
Some of those soldiers have stopped the pair along the way to ask about their mission. They’ve shared stories of battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, left over the from the horrors of war, and applauded the walkers who are journeying in their honor.
In Vernal, Utah, at the end of last week, Roth still must pass through the rest of Utah, Nevada and California before his route is officially complete. He just made it through the Rocky Mountains, as well, climbing more than 11,000 feet.
It’s hard work, and it’s not going to get easier, Roth said.
Winton added that beyond the physical stress, seeing emotional parents or veterans has been just as draining. However, some families have treated the pair like their own.
“You can’t believe the sights you see across the county,” Winton said. “The people you meet are terrific; people opened their homes and provided meals for us.”
Roth and fellow walkers have been active on Facebook, as well, posting a daily dedication to a particular family or individual. Some followers have even recognized Roth from Facebook and driven out of their way to show support. A few — including some veterans — have even laced up for a few miles of their own.
“We had a guy join and was still smiling on the second day,” Roth joked.
Gable added that the encouragement from the public has been nothing short of amazing, too, and continues to grow as each mile passes. He walked with Roth earlier this summer from Columbus, Ohio, to Topeka, Kansas.
“Most impressive, we set off for it to be a walk across America, and it’s turned into a listening tour,” Gable said. “There were a number of families and veterans who came up (to us) and made a connection.”
However, Gable said Helping Hands for Freedom is still lacking a large corporate sponsorship, which would really kick the fundraising side of the project off the ground. Forty-six acres of land is necessary for the retreat house planned for military family, although an exact location has not been established.
“We have really yet to have that awakening across the county that this is a worthwhile endeavor,” Gable said.
Route for the Brave
To donate, visit: routeforthebrave.org.
Donors who contribute $22 — in representation of the 22 military personnel who die each day — will be entered into a drawing for a new Chrysler Town and Country van.