On February 22, a group of citizens walked 22 miles, from Wellington to Fort Collins and back again, to honor veteran lives lost to suicide.
Kelly Altschwager had a difficult decision to make this year regarding the 4th annual Run for the 22 event. This event, created to raise awareness and support for Veterans struggling with suicide, was traditionally held indoors in downtown Wellington. Unlike years prior, there were COVID-19 restrictions to contend with.
Kelly, a personal trainer, and sports nutrition specialist, is the driving force behind this event. “If I’m completely honest, I had a bad attitude about it this year; I felt defeated. But, in true Wellington and military community fashion, I was given the kick in the butt I needed to stay true to the cause and find a way to put something together.” Dan Hadley (USAF) reached out to her. Upon learning she may not do the event, he encouraged her to offer it virtually, getting miles in with whoever would be willing to show up and ruck it outside. “It was the reminder I needed that the cause, our struggling veterans, deserve so much more than to have someone quit because of a few setbacks,” shared Kelly.
So, this year’s event was virtual and went on for three days. Attendees were encouraged to support veterans through walking, running, rucking, or biking 22 miles, with a bonus if they did 22 push-ups at each mile. The funds raised went towards the nonprofit organization Qualified Listeners. On February 22, instead of lasts year’s gym full of participants, Kelly led a group on a 22-mile walk from Wellington, CO, to Fort Collins and then back again. Those participating in Monday’s event carried the honor of a lost veteran through toy soldiers.
By the end of the day on the 22nd, people who never thought they would walk 22 miles completed all 22. The community came together, with memories made, muscles sore, and experiences shared. There were too many push-ups to keep track of, and 283 miles were logged by participants, in person and virtually. The first three days of a week-long fundraiser brought in $2449.
Funds raised went to Qualified Listeners, a 501c3 Veteran Support Program serving Northern Colorado and Southeastern Wyoming veterans and families. They are a veteran and family resource hub that provides various services and connections. It is a volunteer-run organization with a mission to meet the Veteran community’s needs through outreach, listening, resource vetting and referrals, and advocacy.
They are ‘Qualified Listeners’ because they are Veterans listening to Veterans, Veteran spouses listening to Veteran spouses, and family members of Veterans listening to family members of Veterans. Check out Qualified Listener’s website at qualifiedlisteners.org or call 720-600-0860 for more information on what they do and how to get involved. The fundraiser is open online through February 28, 2021; donate through fundrazr at https://fundrazr.com/81lxA3?ref=ab_a9wqGd.
Brandon Neckel, locally famous for his cheerful nature and a steady supply of belly laughs, was among the group that made Monday’s trek. He shared, “Being able to participate this year brought me much enjoyment. Although the amazing people I rucked with were taller than me, I had a great time catching up with them… in more ways than one.”
Shaun Pritchard, also with Monday’s group, shared, “Thank you for putting this together and allowing us to be part of this cause. Veterans hold such a special place in my life. My goal was to get involved in our community serving veterans and sponsoring events.” Shaun is getting involved with more events that bring funds to veteran causes.
Kelly reflects on this year’s event: “There’s something special in changing yourself, whether its belief in yourself, your capabilities or your priorities, through a challenge. That doesn’t necessarily mean just completing 22 miles to be considered successful. It means completing one more than you thought you could or taking the time to do just one mile because you haven’t done it before. ‘Change through challenge’ is a phrase that’s stuck with me this past year, the setbacks for this year’s event being no exception to that.”
Kelly shares a huge THANKS to everyone who showed up for some or all of the miles throughout the event, including those who crushed miles virtually. Thank you to all of the people who drove by to honk, wave, and cheer us on. Thank you to Soul Squared Brewing Company for selling shirts and providing us incredible food and spirits post ruck. Thank you to American Grains for donating the beautiful pledge flag that went to a lucky donor. Thank you to 287 Supply for the on-route pit stop and Erika Pettit for driving the support vehicle all day long.
This pandemic has led to creativity in the ways we connect and support one another. It has also made connecting more challenging. Consider reaching out to others who may be struggling or reaching out if you are the one struggling. That outreach could be the nudge needed in moving forward with putting one foot in front of the other.
Veteran Crisis Support number: 1-800-273-8255
Qualified Listener’s: qualifiedlisteners.org or 720-600-0860
Originally published in North Forty News, February 2021, by Annie Lindgren