Area veterans on trek for suicide awareness, funding

Miles for a mission

From left are David Dunn, Mark Weaver and Kelly Carpenter all of whom will be participating in a ride for awareness starting Thursday.

The number 22 is a meaningful number to military veterans. It represents the number of veterans who commit suicide in the United States every day. While that number is disturbingly high, three local veterans are doing their part to attempt to lower it.

David Dunn and Mark Weaver, both Army veterans, and Kelly Carpenter, a Marine veteran, have been collecting funds via GoFundMe and Facebook to raise money for their cause “Stop the 22,” dedicated to lowering the number of veteran suicides each day. Proceeds from the donations will all go to Mission 22, based in Oregon. On top of collecting money, the three have organized a bike ride across Western New York, beginning Thursday and ending on Saturday, May 22. The total distance covered will be 122 miles.

“We linked up with Mission 22 to try and reduce the number from 22 to zero,” said Carpenter of Falconer. “We’re hopping on our bikes, leaving Falconer then going to Hamburg, then going back through Dunkirk, then from Dunkirk back to Falconer.”

Currently, the three have raised more than $2,000 through the GoFundMe, but they are hoping to hit $5,000. Additionally to the completion of their event on May 22, there will be a penny auction, burgers, and hotdogs at American Legion Post 638. The last three miles of the journey, they’ll be joined by the Buffalo Bicycling Club and the local sheriffs and police departments, showing the support from the county, which Carpenter already knew they had, even for a cause that doesn’t get the attention it should.

“You never see it, it’s never discussed,” said Weaver, a Frewsburg resident. “We need to make it a bigger deal. Veterans are dying left and right. Our community is doing great, and we’ve had a lot of donations. It’s our turn to get the word out, and we hope to see everyone Saturday when we come back.”

All three of Weaver, Carpenter, and Dunn have deep personal connections to the cause, beyond them just being veterans, further motivating them for the 122 mile trek they are about to undertake.

“Two of us suffer from PTSD and have been to the Batavia clinic,” Dunn said. “We struggle daily with temptations and stuff like that. We’re trying to help our brothers and sisters.”

According to Dunn, the reason the issue of veteran suicide is not discussed enough is because of the nature of being a veteran. Dunn and Carpenter have been through their struggles and are able to be more open, but they want to spread the word that their fellow veterans can do the same.

“We’re taught to drive, said Dunn, a Falconer resident. “We don’t really talk about what’s wrong. Myself and Kelly have struggled quite a bit, we’ve been in the hospital, and learned to talk about how we struggle but a lot of vets have been trained to push it down and keep going. Mission 22 has a lot of programs for struggling veterans, like campouts and group sessions, but there is also stuff for families. It’s not just the veteran that’s struggling, it filters down to the family.”

If 122 miles of biking in three days sounds difficult, that’s because it is. The distance was by design, outside of featuring the number 22. Though Weaver will not be doing the whole thing for medical reasons, Dunn and Carpenter intentionally set themselves up to struggle.

“We’ve been in the gym since December or January,” Weaver said. “We’ve been biking a lot, but it’s going to be a long couple days. We’re going to struggle every mile, just as these veterans struggle every day. It’s going to suck, we’re going to feel it, but that’s the point.”

The event has been in the works for the past couple months, and despite it being the first one of these for Chautauqua County, Dunn hopes it isn’t the last.

“We all know people who have committed suicide, so we decided we’re just doing this,” Dunn said. “We’re hoping down the line to turn this into an annual or biannual event where we can make it longer, maybe walk, and bring other people in to have them feel that same struggle and gain more of an understanding.”

Donations to their GoFundMe can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-veterans-stop-the-22?utm–campaign=p–cp–url&utm–medium=os&utm–source=customer


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