Hiking for mental health: HSE grad hikes entire Appalachian trail for awareness

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By Anna Skinner

Derick Walsh knows what it’s like to persevere and not give up. The 22-year-old Fishers graduate is nearing mile 1,600 of the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts. He started May 8 in Georgia and will finish the trek in approximately a month. The entire trail is 2,189 miles.

Walsh is hiking for mental health awareness working to raise $11,000 for the Peyton Riekhof Foundation for Youth Hope in Fishers. Peyton committed suicide in 2013. The foundation works to educate the community and schools on youth and teen mental health issues and suicide prevention.

Walsh said it was a lifelong dream to hike the Appalachian Trail. He’s attempted the feat once before. The first time, he stopped after about 500 miles. This time, he’s motivated to finish.

“When I was a kid, I saw a YouTube video of the Appalachian Trail and thought it was the craziest thing ever,” he said. “I always dreamed of doing it, and that’s why I’m doing it. As far as why I’m hiking for mental health, that just came along with it. I knew it’s a big event. I knew I could make a difference if I attached it to a charity.”

Walsh said he’s experienced mental health difficulties firsthand. He connects the perseverance of combating mental health to hiking.

“The mental health thing, it’s all about keep going, never give up on your life, and I think that connects a lot to hiking, especially this trail. There have been a lot of tough parts,” he said. “The hardest part is mentally grinding it out every single day. Don’t quit. Never quit. There’s days it sucks. There’s days it’s great. Just never quit. You can’t quit. You have to keep going, press on. It’s working toward that one goal.”

Walsh traveled alone the first half of the hike. In North Carolina, he met up with two men traveling in the same direction and has hiked with them since.

After his first attempt to hike the trail, Walsh began training. His regimen included running 10 miles a day. He hikes on average 20 miles a day. His longest day so far is 35 miles.

Hamilton Southeastern Schools Mental Health Coordinator Brooke Lawson stressed the importance of the involvement of the Peyton Riekhof Foundation for Youth Hope in the school system.

“The Peyton Riekhof Foundation for Youth Hope has been a wonderful partner for HSE schools, and we are so lucky to have them as a part of our schools and community,” she stated in an email to Current. “The foundation has provided materials to help train our teachers in suicide prevention, held convocations for students at both high schools about mental health and suicide prevention, held community events to help people learn more about mental health, funded a licensed mental health therapist to run peer support groups and provide therapy for high school students at each high school, and given presentations about suicide prevention in classrooms to junior high and intermediate school students. The foundation has done a wonderful job working with our school district to find gaps and then help fill them in regards to meeting the mental health needs of our students and preventing youth suicide.”

So far, Walsh has raised $1,700 for the foundation. Its biggest expense this year is for student support groups at Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern high schools. To donate, visit gofundme.com/athike17.

Experiencing the Appalachian Trail

Total length: 2,189 miles

Current distance traveled: 1,600 miles

Fundraising goal: $11,000, which equals approximately $5 per mile

Scariest situation: While hiking, 22-year-old Derick Walsh came across a mother bear and her two cubs. The bear charged at Walsh. “I was in a national park in northern Virginia around mile 900 and I had music blaring, and I came around this corner and there was this bear about 10 feet away,” Walsh said. “I couldn’t hear it or see it, and then I did and put my hands up like you’re supposed to. It was about to pounce on me. If I had taken one more step, I think I would’ve died. It was probably the scariest moment of my life.”

Average miles a day: 20

Most miles in one day: 35

Help from others: Walsh began his trip alone, but met two other hikers in North Carolina that he’s traveled with since. Since then, random people have offered them services. “People have taken me to their house off the trail, and people will give us food and take us into their homes and let us shower,” Walsh said. “It gives us faith in humanity again.”

What’s next: When he returns from the Appalachian Trail, Walsh said he isn’t sure what he’ll do next, but he might return to college. He was enrolled briefly at IUPUI studying computer information technology.

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