On Dec. 18, Marine Corps veteran Guadalupe Hernandez began a 250-mile run from Dallas to Houston to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and veteran suicide. She is registered with both Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) and the Travis Manion Foundation, a WWP partner that unites communities to strengthen America's national character by empowering veterans and families of fallen heroes to develop and lead future generations.
Q: What is the event and where did the inspiration come from to do this?
A: I did my first run like this two years ago. The idea came from doing a pledge for another veteran organization to do something within the community. I love running and it has always been a passion of mine. I find it very therapeutic and helps me with my PTSD. I also work with a lot of veterans who have PTSD. I put one and two together and thought I would love to do something that would join raising awareness for PTSD and my love of running. But I wanted to do something different than just a run. So, I came up with the idea of honoring veterans who suffer from PTSD on a daily basis, and also those veterans who took their lives. I started asking around for names, and my idea of honoring them was placing a flag at every mile I crossed.
Last year, I did 200 miles. This run from Dallas to Houston was 250 miles. Every mile down Interstate 45, I placed a flag that honors a vet with PTSD or one who took their life. Those who were unable to move on with their lives, or have someone to talk to, this run is my way of telling them and their families that they are not alone, that someone is rooting for them and wanting to be in their corner. This run started as something I wanted to do on my own. Yet, as people have heard about it, more people have wanted to get involved. So, the next run will have a little twist, but will still be focused on raising awareness about a group of people in our society that can be forgotten sometimes.
Q: What was the highlight of this journey?
A: There were quite a few, but the main highlight was when I hit the halfway point. I was coming through Centerville, Texas, and I was struggling a little bit, but still moving. As I was coming to the next stopping point to do some stretching and eat, there was a group of 20 or 30 veterans from Houston who came out to cheer me on and support me. At that moment I didn’t cry or show any emotions, but later on after I moved on, I shed some tears. It was something special because before the halfway point, I had some doubts creep in about where I could finish. But that encouragement helped me move forward and go all the way.
The other highlight I would say was around my ankle giving me problems. I had a crew with me that consisted of a pacer and five people who were there to help me. They would help with food and water and lift my spirits and remind me of the purpose of this run and who it was for. Going through that pain every mile and seeing where I would need to place the flag every mile gave me the motivation to push through. I thought of the veterans and the pain they are going through every day. I really wanted to give up, and despite the pain I was going through, it actually gave me the strength I needed to finish.
Q: What is one thing you learned about yourself while doing this?
A: I learned that it’s OK to show all my emotions. I tend to close my emotions off and not show them in front of people. But I learned that it’s OK to show that, and that it makes me stronger, especially in front of those who care for me and support me. Whether it was me getting frustrated, emotional, or super happy, I just let myself feel that. It was good, it was and something I didn’t expect.
Last year when I did a run like this, it was just me and my sister, so it was a bit easier for me. I could go and do it as I pleased. But with a crew there to keep me accountable and tell me to rest, eat, and drink water, it challenged how I wanted to do this. I would get into the zone, keep running, and neglect what I needed to do. That could be hard sometimes, and I have issues with trust because of what I have been through in my life. I had to relearn that on this journey -- to trust those who are there supporting me, especially when they are with me day and night. I am just grateful and blessed that they were there throughout this journey.
Q: What is something you would’ve done differently, if at all?
A: I think I babysat my injury too much and maybe rested too much. I had a goal of wanting to finish this before the five-day mark. But adding that extra day reflected how this went last year. My gut was to go until I could go no further, maybe take a two-hour nap when I needed it, and go through it with less rest because I feel like I rested way too much. My support was so amazing, and I wouldn’t change that. The eating and nutrition the team provided me was on point. Lastly, I might have changed the route because at the beginning there were way too many hills, but it flattened out as we progressed, which was better. Other than that, I don’t think I would change anything.
Q: If others wanted to do this, what advice would you give them?
A: I would tell them to follow their heart. As a female, I asked if I could even do this. But I knew that this isn’t about me, and that’s what gave me the motivation to say, “Yeah I can do this.” I have seen other people do difficult things, and I thought, “Why couldn’t I, too?” I would also say that you need a great team of supporters; I couldn’t have done this without them. Just like those struggling with PTSD, anyone who attempts this shouldn’t go alone. They need that group of people around them daily to support them, care for them, and encourage them. I also would tell anyone wanting to do this to not give up and just to keep moving. I had this motto I would repeat: “I can, you can, we can. Never alone.” I kept saying that to myself throughout the journey. Even though I am struggling and have this pain, I cannot quit. And neither should anyone who wants to challenge themselves like this. Others are going to see you struggle through it and know that this is important and worthwhile.
Q: Any message you would want to share with those who see this or to those living with PTSD?
A: I’ve been trying to thank everyone who came out to support me, or who sent kind words, either through Facebook, the run page, text or anything else. So, in case I missed someone, I want to say thank you so much. This run will never be about me, it will always be about those veterans living with PTSD and maybe struggling with it.
I also want to thank Under Armor, Travis Manion Foundation, and Wounded Warrior Project for their tremendous support for this run. It was truly unexpected, and for them to come out and be a huge part of this, I just feel blessed and grateful.
To those veterans living with PTSD, I want to say, “You’re never alone; you’ve got a female Marine who cares for you.” And I will never stop doing this until I see the 17 suicides a day number come down. Remember that in your lives, there is someone out there who loves you, cares for you, and wants you to thrive. You are never alone.
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