Veteran hiking nationwide for suicide prevention passing through mid-Missouri
CLIMAX SPRINGS - An army veteran and Columbia College graduate hiking across America to raise awareness for suicide prevention is making his way through mid-Missouri.
Jimmy Novak served in the army for 21 years. After that, he enrolled at Columbia College, where he graduated last December.
After leaving the army, Novak said he struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide. He said he thought he was alone, until he began talking about his experiences.
“A big part of what I'm doing is raising awareness about what I’ve been through so that other people can benefit by being inspired to go seek help," Novak said.
He set out on his journey from Washington state to Florida on March 22. Since then, he's hiked at least 22 miles day, with a goal of arriving at Disney World by August 22.
He said 22 represents the number of veterans who commit suicide every day on average.
Novak passed through Climax Springs Thursday, with plans to stay the night with family in Camdenton. He said the journey has not always been easy, but he's felt a little bit stronger every day he carries on.
“Overall I feel pretty fantastic," Novak said. "I feel like every step is a new beginning for me."
He said the experience has given him the opportunity to appreciate all the beauty the American countryside has to offer.
"It looks a whole lot different from the side of the road as it does from the driver’s seat of a car,” Novak said.
While Novak is hiking, his family is cheering him on from his home back in Washington.
"We can video chat pretty much any time I have a phone signal," Novak said. "I do miss them but they're all pretty excited about what it is I’m doing.”
It's not just his family cheering him. He said people in every community he passes go out of their way to do what they can to help. Sometimes, that help can be overwhelming.
"The day I was coming into Lawrence in Kansas I actually got slowed down so much by the support I was receiving," Novak said. "I was pushing daylight by the time I got to my hotel and I had to turn people away."
He said he's always happy to stop and talk to people along the way. He even published a map tracking his progress and current location. He also has a website and social media pages documenting his travel.
Novak said the best way people can help him is by donating to his GoFundMe. All funds raised will pay for his trip. Any extra money will be donated to the Permission to Start Dreaming Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.