Kate MacEachern, two riders on horse back and the rest of The Long Way Home team were escorted into Castlegar last Tuesday by representatives of the Castlegar Fire Department, RCMP, military, first responders and a string of emergency vehicles.
The Castlegar stop is part of an 85 day journey the retired Canadian Forces Corporal is taking from Nipawin, Saskatchewan to Chilliwack, BC as part of a fundraising and education mission.
The Long Way Home is a non-profit organization created to help support victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The beneficiaries from this year’s walk are organizations that train service dogs for victims of PTSD and the Wounded Warriors Weekend, an organization that brings veterans together to honour, remember and salute. During the weekend resources and professionals are available to begin a relationship of support with those that attend and help as they transition at home.
Castlegar RCMP Constable Steve Smith worked tirelessly in the weeks leading up to the arrival to plan a fund raiser and reception for MacEachern and her team.
The event had everything you need: food, live music (provided by Ruckus), community spirit and a good cause.
The “Jail and Bail” event saw over 20 citizens arrested and held in a jail at the Castlegar Complex Park until they could post bail. Among those arrested were Mayor Chernoff and city councillors Dan Rye and Kevin Chernoff.
The Castlegar Fire Department joined the fundraising action by hosting a BBQ, which raised $675 for the cause. Several members, including fire chief Gerry Rempel, also joined MacEachern on the last leg of the approach to Castlegar in full gear even though temperatures were sweltering 33 degrees.
Castlegar citizens were very generous and more than $7,000 was raised.
The 3,100 kilometre walk is part of MacEachern’s own journey to recovery from PTSD. MacEachern is a fighter and has already recovered from a broken neck, spinal cord damage, a fractured skull and a bleed in her brain that occurred in 2007. Her family was told she would most likely remain in a vegetative state and that if she did awaken, she would be paralyzed and not the same person she was before.
“I started physically recovering, which took a long time. I managed to keep my uniform on. I managed to stay in (the military),” MacEachern said.
Then tragically 18 months after the accident, she had a stroke caused by a blood clot from the previous injury breaking free. Her family would receive news similar to the first time, but MacEachern beat the odds again. However, the emotional scars were taking their toll.
“I started falling into a severe depression, to the point that I was barely taking care of my son at the end of it.There was a lot of days I couldn’t get out of bed. Anxiety, nightmares, I did not understand what was going on, anger that I never had before. I kept blaming it on everything but what it really was.” said MacEachern.
In 2010 she was diagnosed with PTSD. A diagnosis she struggled to accept.
“So I threw myself for a solid year into trying to be bigger, better, than everyone else because I was broke and I was trying to fix it.” said MacEachern.
This path led her deeper into depression, until it reached a point she was considering taking her own life.
This became a wake up call and she realized she needed to get help. She started treatment and began the process of getting back on her feet.
A conversation with her grandmother planted the seed that would grow into her first walk from CFB Gagetown, NB home to Antigonish, NS, a 576 km trek.
MacEachern called home and told her dad she wanted to walk home.
“I have got to do something, there are a lot more people like me,” she told him. “I care and I am scared of losing them.”
At this point, she had already buried seven of her friends, all with PTSD diagnoses.
Burdened by the lack of resources available for PTSD MacEachern decided to go for it and turn her journey into a campaign.
“I thought,it’s not going to kill me. They told me twice now I would never walk again, so lets prove them wrong. I have not stopped since,” she said.
She walked in uniform, with a full ruck sack and raised $20,000.
Her second walk took place in 2013 and took her from Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton, NS to Ottawa.
This journey was over three times longer, 1864 km. Now a civilian, the uniform was missing, but she still carried the 45 pound rucksack.
MacEachern was touched by the reception she recieved here.
“It can be daunting, because you are physically hurting, emotionally hurting, but then we do Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C. and we have not had any down time.” she said. “It’s amazing, almost every day we have a reception, or people puling over. We get into a community like this, and it just like you guys cant do enough. A bonus of being here has been the first responders response. It is mind blowing.”
In return Castlegar was moved and inspired by MacEachern.