As a U.S. Navy veteran, Dustin Johnson knows the struggles service members face on returning stateside.
After a failed attempt on his own life earlier this year, Johnson of Benton, Missouri, decided to take positive action and work toward realizing a long-held dream.
“Having left the military service I had a very difficult time adjusting,” he said by email, sent from Pamplona, Spain. “I went through severe depression and anxiety for over a year. During that year, I worked three different jobs and lived in three different cities and I just couldn’t shake being numb all the time and not having a sense of purpose anymore.”
Then, on Jan. 21, he lost everything he owned in a house fire, he wrote: “I woke up choking on smoke and by the time the fire department arrived nothing was salvageable.”
Johnson wrote his depression then hit rock bottom, and he attempted to take his own life, but, he said, he was told his body hadn’t given up even if his mind had.
“So I am very grateful for that,” he wrote.
But, after his initial recovery, he needed to find purpose. He had no possessions, but said he felt he could do something for others.
A recreational runner, he landed on the idea of running around the world.
Johnson called the World Runners Association to confirm no American had run the world — a dream of his since age 16.
“I knew immediately that I would run to help raise funds and awareness for my brothers and sisters going through what I went through,” he wrote. “Sometimes we have to do extraordinary things to love the world just a few inches and that’s what my plan was going in. To set a world record, to be the first American, and to save as many lives as I can.”
This would be no easy feat. According to a Nov. 27 post on the Johnson’s World Record Run Facebook page, his goal is to run more than 16,300 miles total.
He’s approximately 5,000 miles in, according to the post.
Johnson left from Lambert, Missouri, on May 1, and ran to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, running 930 miles.
He ran another 3,000 miles across South America after flying in to Lima, Peru, on Nov. 1.
Johnson then flew to Lisbon, Portugal, to start his European run.
After his planned stop in Istanbul, Johnson plans to run from Perth, Australia, to Sydney and in New Zealand, then back to the United States to run from the West Coast back to Missouri, according to the post.
Johnson wrote he’s met many people along the way who have been deeply generous toward him and supportive in his goal to raise awareness about veterans’ mental suffering.
“Overall, the world is way better off than what videos and the news show us. People are so much kinder and welcoming,” he wrote. “I have had people from Peru offer to send money to the United States to help our veterans. Peru is a very poor country; the minimum wage is 285 USD a month, but they are willing to help my cause.”
Johnson said he hopes first and foremost veterans and active-duty service members get the help they need.
“Our servicemen and women deserve more than a day or two class to help them with their separation from the military life to civilian life,” he wrote.
Johnson wrote he also hopes veterans and their families understand reaching out is important.
“Ninety-nine percent of the United States population will never know what it is like to serve, but they all lean on our service members daily,” Johnson wrote. “It’s OK if the 1 percent wants to lean on everyone else from time to time.”
Johnson strongly encouraged everyone to be welcoming and accepting to help those struggling to adjust to civilian life.
Secondly, he said, “I hope every young adult sees what I’m doing and it inspires them to stand up for things they believe in or what change in regardless of how many people say it’s impossible.”
Johnson is running to raise funds for Stop Soldier Suicide. He is on Instagram as Runningforvets.
For more information or to make a donation, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255 (TALK).
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