SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — A veteran, his wife and their dog will begin their journey paddle boarding up 270 miles of the Lake Michigan shoreline Saturday morning to raise awareness for suicide among veterans.
Josh Flath and his wife, Jessi Flath, moved to Michigan in the beginning of 2019 from Hawaii where he was stationed in the U.S. Navy.
During his time in the Navy Josh, now a veteran, said six of his friends committed suicide.
As a response to these tragedies, he felt compelled to do something about it.
“It all started with a crazy idea to paddle up the coastline of Lake Michigan to Torch Lake to raise awareness,” Josh said. “Through the process, it evolved from raising awareness to providing solutions.”
It’s not uncommon for civilians to hear about the “22.” On average, 22 veterans commit suicide daily, according to Josh.
The aquatic journey is an event organized by the group 4the22, a branch of the nonprofit Helping Heros Kids. 4the22 focuses on helping veterans transition into civilian life by getting them out on the water.
A member of 4the22, Josh, along with his wife Jessi and dog Ruby, will be leading the 270 mile trip and invites any others who are interested and properly prepared to join them.
“My time on the water saw me through a lot, and I know it can do the same for others,” he said. “The paddle and surf community is one of the few places that I have found a brotherhood that resembles that of the military.”
Prior to the take off, the national anthem will be sung by Army veteran Erika Rose at 5:30 a.m. Saturday. Paddlers will then begin their journey on South Beach in South Haven at 6 a.m. From there, they will travel north in six hour increments, approximately 40-some miles each stretch.
Stops will include in sequential order: Grand Haven, Silver Lake, Orchard Beach State Park, Empire, Leelanau State Park, and ending at Alden Depot Park and Museum on Torch Lake Friday, July 19.
Leashes and personal flotation devices are required for anyone who wishes to paddle along and will be enforced. Transportation, food and lodging will not be provided.
There will be a celebration that will be open to the public with live music, food, paddle board clinics and beach sports/games at Alden Depot Park after paddlers finish their journey on the 19th.
Josh said they will live stream their travels and will be using a location tracker for viewers to follow. He hopes that the sentiment of this event will reach fellow veterans as an invitation of support and offering of brotherhood.
“Whether the water becomes their love or gets them back into their love, it could make a huge impact,” he said. “It is so easy to get caught up in everything in life and lose what makes you, you. I truly believe it is the first step to healing and finding your purpose.”