WALKING FOR AWARENESS – With her boots and rucksack

Retired Canadian Forces member walks across Canada for PTSD

Just one more step further. That’s what wounded war veteran, army Cpl. Kate MacEachern tells herself each day during her march

Just one more step further.

That’s what wounded war veteran, army Cpl. Kate MacEachern tells herself each day during her march for awareness.

“We are over 700 kilometres into the journey now,” MacEachern told the Lacombe Express during her stop in Lacombe on Tuesday.

MacEachern and her team left Nipawin, Saskatchewan on May 1st to partake on a march to raise awareness for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), under the banner The Long Way Home.

“The first week we had snow and very, very cold temperatures,” she said. “But it was all what we expected walking into this.”

MacEachern was wounded in 2007 and suffered a traumatic brain injury as well as spinal cord damage.

“I had a very long recovery process due to the nature of the injury,” she explained. “Eighteen months after the injury itself, when I was still in the physical healing process, I ended up having a stroke, which was caused by a blood clot caused by the initial injury, which left me paralyzed on the right side.

“I started the healing process again. It was basically two steps forward, three steps back. With any significant injury, it is not always an easy road.”

In 2010, MacEachern was diagnosed with PTSD, which was something she at first ignored.

“I didn’t believe there was any way I could have PTSD due to the stigma, that we are now fighting, that it’s only a battlefield injury, it’s only soldiers that have PTSD,” she said.

MacEachern faced unrelenting guilt and almost lost her battle in 2011. Through the assistance of her friends and family, she turned things around with a new outlook and mission.

“Once I came out of it, I realized there are a lot more people like me out there,” she said. “There’s civilians, soldiers, first responders, you know anybody out there that went through something similar or something that looks entirely different.”

From a suggestion from her grandmother, to put on her boots and walk across the country from New Brunswick to bring awareness to PTSD, and that’s exactly what MacEachern did four years ago and she hasn’t stopped since.

“There are so many people in this world that talk the talk and have suggestions and opinions,” she said. “But very few of them are actually doing anything to try and make a difference.

“When the injury first happens, when you get out of the hospital, when you get home from overseas or you get home from a fire call, or police call, or a search and rescue call, when your gear comes off or you are back home safe in this country, that’s where your journey is just starting.

“That’s when it gets hard. That’s where people need to pay attention and realize that people need support and more than that, they need to be okay with accepting that something has changed. It’s not wrong, it’s just different.”

The most challenging part of the journey for MacEachern is dealing with emotions.

“From when you wake up, like anything, you prepare physically for what you are going to face,” she said. “You tape, you use band-aids, you do this and that — you don’t have those for your emotions. An average day is not average.

“Your heart gets broken, refilled, broken, refilled 15 times in one day. So you take that, and multiply it by 85 days and it’s a lot to carry, but it’s 100 per cent worth it.”

Through the Long Way Home, MacEachern is raising money for four organizations that involve equine therapy and post traumatic service dogs. She is also joined along the road by the N.A.S.H. project, an organization that rescues neglected and abused dogs and horses with the vision of rehabilitating them as service and therapeutic animals.

By foot and by horse, MacEachern and her team will be crossing three provinces over three months, traveling over 2,700 kms.

MacEachern left Ponoka this past Monday and was in Lacombe, then Blackfalds on Tuesday. Early Wednesday morning she departed for Red Deer, with her final destination of the western Canada leg being Chilliwack, B.C. next month.

Follow MacEachern’s journey at www.thelongwayhome.ca.

news@lacombeexpress.com